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Where Does Gasoline Come From?

The Journey to Your Tank

Pumping gasoline is a routine to which most people give little thought. Just stop at the gas station, pay, fill up and go. But have you ever wondered where the gas you buy actually comes from?

Gasoline’s journey from its beginning as crude oil to the finished product pumped into your vehicle’s gas tank is a complicated one.

It Starts With Crude

Everything begins with crude oil buried in underground and underwater reservoirs. Crude is extracted through wells and stored in large tanks before being transported to refineries via pipelines, ships, barges and trains.

Once at a refinery, the crude oil undergoes a process called fractional distillation. The crude is heated to its boiling point, around 600 degrees Celsius, and the vapor created is injected into a distillation tower that separates it into a variety of raw materials.

Very few petroleum products are ready for use immediately after distillation. Most undergo additional refining processes that purify them and create other forms of raw materials. Finally, a number of refined products are blended together in precise proportions to create base gasoline in regular and premium grades.

Time to Roll Out

Pipelines, ships and barges transport base gasolines from refineries to distribution centers where they are held in large storage tanks. The tanks usually contain base fuels from many different refineries and oil companies, so all gasoline starts out essentially the same. As fuel is loaded into large tanker trucks for delivery to gasoline stations, special additive packages are blended in, which turn the base fuels into branded gasolines with unique characteristics.

At The Pump

At service stations, gasoline is stored in separate underground tanks for regular and premium gasoline, as well as diesel if the retailer sells it. Where available, mid-grade gasoline is made by blending regular and premium together in the pump. AAA research has found that there is no benefit to using a grade of gasoline higher than that recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

Top Tier Gasoline

The government mandates that all gasoline contain a minimum quantity of detergent additives to help keep your car’s fuel system and engine clean. However, many automakers think the minimum is insufficient, so they blend more and unique additives with base gasolines to meet a higher standard called Top Tier™ detergent gasoline. A 2016 study by AAA found that Top Tier gasoline can keep engine components up to 19 times cleaner than fuels with the minimum required detergent level. There are currently 52 brands of gasoline that meet the Top Tier standard.

The petroleum industry is vast and complex, but a better understanding of gasoline can help you determine the appropriate grade and quality of gas to use in your car. Those decisions can save you money, optimize vehicle performance and fuel economy, and reduce exhaust emissions.