Written by Nicole Roche

Energy is imperative to our daily lives. It fuels transportation needs, heats our homes and work places, helps power our hospitals and schools. Opposition to pipeline development has garnered a lot of public attention recently, and it’s critical that energy professionals are well informed about the facts regarding pipelines.

Hydrocarbons are the source of some of the most important products we use every day. They are a class of compounds composed entirely of hydrogen and carbon, formed through the decomposition of organic matter (marine plants and animals) that lived on the earth millions of years ago (pre-dating dinosaurs). Hydrocarbons, once refined, have a broad range of uses (i.e., plastics, gasoline, and heat).

What products do oil and gas pipelines move?

The “energy” products derived from refinement and processing of hydrocarbons and transported through pipelines are:

Natural Gas:

  • Composed primarily of methane
  • Domestic applications include residential space and water heating, appliances & vehicles
  • Industrial uses include steam heat production, processing forest products, manufacturing steel, fertilizers and cement
  • Power generation facilities often use natural gas fired turbines
  • Natural gas is also used as a raw material for the manufacture of petrochemicals and as a source of hydrogen for heavy oil and bitumen upgrading

Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs):

  • Light hydrocarbons usually produced with natural gas and usually require minimal processing
  • Often used for the production of a range of (petro) chemicals such as ethylene, propane, butane, and pentane


  • Requires refining before it is suitable for domestic application. This include blending to be a significant component of gasoline as well as household solvents
  • Alternatively, condensate is often mixed with heavier crude oils, as a means of reducing viscosity of the heavy oil, to make its pipeline transportation viable

Light Crude:

  • Used for the production of gasoline, diesel, and industrial fuel oils

    Figure 1: Hydrocarbon Processing/Refinement

  • Source of a range of other substances such as paraffins/waxes and lubricants used in a broad range of applications

Medium Crude:

  • Used in similar ways as light crude oils, however, require significantly more refining to yield the same products
  • Through the refining process, additional lower value products such as fuel oil, tar and asphalt can be extracted

Heavy Crude:

  • Requires more refining than medium crude and leads to a smaller proportion of high value products (e.g., gasoline)

Extra Heavy Crude (Bitumen):

  • Since extra heavy crude oil does not flow, or cannot be pumped without being heated or diluted, it requires the greatest amount of processing

Pipelines play an important role by transporting the oil and gas product from its point of extraction along the value chain to be processed, stored, and distributed to the end user.

Society relies on these products to meet more than two-thirds of their energy needs. As stated on About Pipelines, 94 per cent of the transportation demand in Canada is supplied by refined petroleum products and more than half of Canadian homes are heated by natural gas.

Stay tuned for the third article in this series on the pipeline industry to learn more about the impact of pipelines in our daily lives, what’s going on in the industry today, and new and controversial pipeline projects being proposed.

Content within this article has been extracted from the Introduction to the Pipeline Industry course offered through the Centre for Pipeline Knowledge. For more information about pipelines and the pipeline industry, visit www.pbok.ca\cpk.

Nicole Roche is an educational professional and currently employed as the Manager of Training & Development at PBOK Consulting and the Centre for Pipeline Knowledge. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Communication from Royal Roads University and two diplomas in New Media Production and Design and Business Administration (Management) from SAIT Polytechnic. Nicole started her career in the energy industry over ten years ago in curriculum development at SAIT Polytechnic for the MacPhail School of Energy. Since leaving SAIT in 2011, she has held a number of learning and development roles at both oil & gas companies and pipeline operators.