Storing, moving and delivering fuel to the end user is a very important element in the economics of the downstream industry. It is the one area where joint ventures or collaboration with other oil companies are commonplace, with the aim of pooling resources and reducing costs.
Each year, about 69 million tonnes of petroleum products (sourced from UK’s refineries and imports of products) are moved around the UK. The methods used range from pipeline networks, rail, ship or road. The map gives an outline of refineries and some of the main terminals and pipelines (click here).

Distribution Storage


The six main refineries in the UK all have substantial storage for finished products coming out of the refinery. However, given the location of refineries, there are also other large storage terminals around the country, generally near major conurbations. These terminals are mainly supplied from the refineries by pipeline, rail and by sea. Often they are run as joint ventures between a number of oil companies as a means of increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Furthermore, commercial arrangements are commonly negotiated between companies to draw product on exchange from another company's terminal. This avoids the necessity to transport products over long distances from one terminal to another and also means that no one company has a dominant local position by virtue of the location of their refinery or terminal.

A typical large terminal is highly automated and closely integrated with computer systems controlling orders, stocks, invoicing and scheduling of tanker deliveries.

Safety and environmental protection are vital. Larger terminals are subject to CoMAH (Control of Major Accidents Hazards Regulations) legislation and are designated as tier one sites. These regulations require all such sites to have a major accident prevention plan and, in addition, top tier sites must produce a safety report to show that risks have been systematically reviewed and controlled, and necessary measures taken.

Modern floating roof storage tanks, and vapour recovery from tanks and loading gantries, means that fuel distribution is increasingly becoming a closed system. Other safety systems and training are designed to prevent incidents, whilst fire suppression and fluids containment barriers limit the impact of any incident.


Britain is criss-crossed by a network of pipelines, some of them owned by individual oil companies dedicated to supplying their own terminals, some others being joint ventures.

Pipelines are an efficient and safe means of moving large volumes of refined products from a refinery to a storage terminal. Although the initial capital costs of building a line are high, the operating costs are far lower than other means of transport, particularly when set against the expected life span of a pipeline. Once installed underground, pipelines offer substantial environmental and safety benefits, not least from the elimination of road tanker journeys or transportation by rail or sea.

Pipelines usually transport petrol, diesel and jet fuel. Each year, over 30 million tonnes of fuels are moved in this way in the UK, equivalent to about one million road tanker journeys. Pipelines are controlled through sophisticated computer systems linked to sensors and automated valves, which enable an operator to optimise speed of flow and limit mixing of different products within the line.

Distribution of jet fuel to major airports is mainly done by pipelines which link to tankage at the airport and then to a pipeline network beneath the airport apron, to which specialist fuel dispensers can connect to refuel planes.    

Rail and road distribution

Because of the relative higher cost of these methods of transport, they are not used to move large volumes of products from refinery to terminals.

Road transport is the preferred method for the delivery of most products to the end user, be it an industrial customer or a filling station.

Road tankers, usually of 44 tonnes, or 18 tonnes in rural areas, operate from a variety of terminals. Modern automated terminals are equipped with loading gantries from which the tanker driver can load product by a pipe connection to the bottom of the tanker which also captures vapours expelled during filling, preventing their escape into the atmosphere. These vapours are passed through a vapour recovery unit which converts them back to liquid form. A similar system also operates at filling stations, vapours expelled from underground tanks being recovered by the tanker and processed back at a terminal.

Specialised tankers convey products such as bitumen, fuel oil and LPG.

The operation of road tankers is increasingly being contracted out to specialist transport operators.  


An alternative to pipelines for moving large volumes of products is by coastal tanker, which are generally small enough to navigate shallower waters and dock at coastal ports.

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