British Pipelines and Their Origins


British Pipelines


British Pipelines are an essential part of the UK oil Industry. History has defined their creation and they have evolved over time as the country has changed. The World War’s were the catalyst for the first military pipeline.

Commercial Pipelines

In 1969 two refineries, Stanlow and Shell Haven, who were owned by Shell opened the United Kingdom Oil Pipeline (UKOP). The pipeline was operated by the British Pipeline Agency a company that is still jointly owned by Shell and British Petroleum. The pipeline is still operating and roughly transports just under 8 million tonnes of products each year. The mixed products are sent to major terminals along the line. Two of the major oil terminals are; Bruncefiled and Kingsbury. Pipelines are an extremely important part of the oil refining industry as they enable the relatively cheap transportation of raw materials over vast distances. The transportation can occur without hindrance as the pipes are often underground, protected from severe weather that could cause damage and interruption to oil flow. The running cost and maintenance of the pipeline is negligible compared to the initial cost of setting it up. However the initial cost was quickly reimbursed through savings in lorry transportation. The UKOP pipeline is now maintained via a helicopter that patrols it every two weeks.

War Time Influences

The UKOP was not the first pipeline built in the UK. Prior to the outbreak of World War 2 the British Government deemed it vital that aviation fuel could be transported across the country. Therefore, they petitioned for the authorisation to build a secret pipeline between the two major west coast oil importation harbours of Liverpool and Stanlow. The pipeline ran all the way to Bristol and was quickly completed by 1938 when it was fully operational. This meant that all ports could be operational independent to where the oil was offloaded.

The Midlands and South of England surface road distribution network were deemed vulnerable to attack. Therefore they extended the previous pipelines so that they could reach the key cities of Oxford and Kent among others. The pipeline enabled consistent supply of oil to Royal Air force bases where aviation fuel was constantly required. These pipelines were still operated by the government up until 2012 when they announced that they were planning to sell all or at least part of the pipeline system. In 2015 the network was acquired by a Spanish oil network operator called CLH. It was bought for just over eighty million pounds. The Ministry of Defence also signed a contract with CLH enabling them to use the pipeline to supply the military bases that were still using the pipeline. The RAF used to ensure the continuity of the pipeline by flying over it once each day. This observational duty finally ended with its sale to CLH.

The majority of British Pipelines have their ancestry dated back to just before WW2 when the government ordered their construction. Over the years the network has been improved and millions of tonnes of fuel have been transported. The pipelines were not only profitable but also pivotal to the success of the Allied forces in WW2. The day that they were sold off to a foreign company signalled the end of an era of complete British control over British pipelines.