From Oil to Fuel: How Gasoline Makes It to Your Gas Tank

Updated on February 26, 2018

Gasoline, love it or hate it - you've used it sometime in your life. Getting gasoline from its original oil state to your car takes a lot more than just those fuel trucks you see on the highway. Here's a brief outline of how oil is converted to gasoline and then delivered to your local gas station.


Oil and natural gas originates in the remains of ocean plants and fossils that lived millions of years ago. After years and years of layers of sediment growth on these remains, and the addition of heat and pressure, the remains changed into oil and natural gas. With the passing of time, the oil and natural gas become trapped in reservoir rocks.

Land-based drilling and offshore platform production rigs are two ways oil is found. The land-based drilling is the more common used. It drills deep down in an area for rock samples, the rock samples are analyzed to see if that area contains oil or not. If it is, oil is then excavated from the area and transported to a refinery.


The top countries producing oil is Nigeria, United States, Russia and Kuwait. The most common way to transport oil from these countries to refineries is by large ships (tankers). But supertankers (much larger ships) must first transfer their oil to smaller tankers to carry into port or transfer their oil to offshore oil ports which will then pump the oil to the refineries by pipeline. If the oil does not need to cross waters to get to the refinery, then it is transported by pipeline to the refinery.

Distillation Column
Distillation Column


Distillation is the process of converting oil into a liquid fuel. The hydrocarbon molecules in the oil is heated into a vapor and then transferred into a distillation column. Substances in vapor condense to a liquid form once it reaches its boiling point at certain heights. These heights are lined with trays to collect the liquids. Once this is done, the oil has separated into various liquid fuels.

The liquid fuel is transferred from the distillation column to other areas in the refinery that will add various chemicals to the liquid fuel to convert it into a marketable product (i.e. gasoline). There are three different ways to get this done:

  • Cracking: the process in which relatively heavy hydrocarbons (the liquid fuel) are broken up by heat into lighter products. Two forms of cracking include: Thermal - breaks down hydrocarbons using heat and pressure; and Catalytic - uses a catalyst, such as aluminum, to break down hydrocarbons
  • Unification: combines smaller hydrocarbons with larger ones
  • Alteration: rearranges the molecules of one hydrocarbon to create another

The final step in the conversion process is the removal of impurities (i.e. tar, sulfur) by using chemicals and drying agents. Once this is completed, the liquid fuel is cooled and is prepped for delivery.



There are three main ways the fuel products are transported to the terminals (a bulk storage and distribution facility warehousing the fuel) while it waits for further transportation to retailers (i.e. gas stations) or end users (i.e. county uses such as school buses). The three main ways are by barge and vessel to ports with terminals or bulk storage facilities, pumped through pipelines from refineries to end users or other terminals, and by railcar from refineries to terminals, bulk facilities, and transloading stations (a facility where cargo is transferred between railcars, trucks, or tankers).

Once the refined fuel is received, it’s deposited into a terminal owned by a terminal operator. A terminal operator owns the terminals but leases them out to terminal suppliers (companies that own the fuel i.e. Exxon). A carrier removes the fuel from the terminals under instruction of the terminal suppliers and delivers it to the retail gas station (or any other destination) where you pump your gasoline.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 nestle02

    What ways do you think the oil company can better this system or make it more secure (i.e ensure prevention of spills if possible)?

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)