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Where Does Gasoline Come From?

by Grassroots Motorsports

Posted on 5/16/2024 at 9:00 AM

Fuel terminals and pipelines



 Most of us know where babies come from, but what about gasoline? The answer goes deeper than “the pump,” and understanding the process can help differentiate the various offerings. 

Step 1: Crude oil is extracted from the ground. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. imported about 8.32 million barrels of petroleum per day during 2022, with 52% of that coming from Canada. Next on the list: Mexico (10%), Saudi Arabia (7%), Iraq (4%) and Columbia (3%). According to that same report, during the same time period, the U.S. exported about 9.58 million barrels of oil per day–so the U.S. exports more than it imports. Via some combination of ships, rail cars and pipelines, that crude oil arrives at an American refinery. 

Step 2: The crude can now be refined into various fractions, including diesel, kerosene and, yes, gasoline. At this point, the gasoline is still an unbranded commodity, although some additives are added–often antioxidants and corrosion inhibitors. 

Step 3: Now let’s just follow the path for gasoline. If not bound for export, it will head to a regional terminal–often via pipeline but possibly also by rail car. 
Each pipeline, notes Zachary J. Santner, senior specialist of quality at Sunoco, can be used to transport different products: A load of gasoline could follow some diesel, with a mixed slug of fluid separating the two. (That slug would then be refined again at a transmix facility, he explains.) 

Step 4: The magic that separates one brand from another happens at the terminal, Santner continues. “That’s where detergents and other propriety additives are added,” he says. “That’s where a fuel would become Top Tier or not.” Those extra detergents that define a Top Tier fuel, he notes, come at a cost, so not all brands opt for them. 

Step 5: Trucks then transport the gasoline to the local stations. If you see a gasoline truck on the highway, he notes, it’s doing local deliveries. 

But what about race fuel? As a boutique product, Sunoco Race Fuels don’t follow this path, he explains. They’re all brewed in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, to a consistent, controlled recipe and shipped via dedicated containers.