How many supertankers does it take to supply the U.S. with oil for a single day?

By Deane Barker on October 17, 2007

Here’s an interesting fact I finally broke down and looked up today —

I wondered what percentage of U.S. oil consumption could fit in one supertanker. The answer was a little scary.

As of 2004, the U.S. consumes about 20 million barrels of oil a day, according to the CIA. For some perspective, China is second at just 6 million barrels a day.

Supertanker capacity varies, but Wikipedia says most carry about 2 million barrels. The largest tanker in the world is a ship we’ve talked about before — the Jahre Viking (now called the Knock Nevis). It carries 4 million per day.

So, it takes 10 “normal-sized” supertankers to supply the U.S. with oil for a single day. Yikes.

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  1. even though i know the supertankers are huge objects that carry massive amounts of oil, i still think it’s pretty amazing that it “only” takes 10 to supply the entire US for a day. i mean…. the US is pretty damned big. Maybe my amazement would be better placed at the enormous size of the ships…..

  2. I’m with the first poster – I’m astonished it would only take 10 or so supertankers to supply the entire US oil needs for a day – there are rather more than 10 ports in the US capable of taking a supertanker (OK, maybe only a few more).

    The big question is, how long does it take to empty/load one of these ships?

  3. A few yearsack when I studdied this subject, there were no us super tanker (tie up) ports. The nearest to me (I am in NH) was Port Hawksbury, Nova Scotia, Canada. For the Geographically challenged, that is in the small space between the two Islands that make up Nova Scotia. As far as I know, this is the only place in North America where one of these fellas can tie up to a pier.. Turnarround (oil off, water ballast on) time at a pier is less than a day and highly automated. Interested? I recomend Noel Mostert’s book, ‘Supership’. MH

  4. Deane,

    Thanks for posting this! I didn’t quite feel compelled to comment when I first read it (shortly after you posted it, last year), but tonight I decided it’s time. I just finished citing this entry for the third of fourth time, this time as part of a discussion about worldwide petroleum consumption and its potential impact on global warming (if any)..

    I don’t really remember the circumstances surrounding the previous times that I went back and found this entry to share with others. I think it was always more casual–mostly just to show friends and co-workers some big-ass ships. :)

    Tonight, though, I was contrasting the 2004 numbers you mentioned, with some more recent numbers that Chris Nelder gave in an April 23, 2008 article: “High Gasoline Prices Are Here to Stay – Debunking the Myths about High Gas Prices“.

    The most startling new information he provided was: “For the first time this year, the combined oil consumption of China, India, Russia and the Middle East will exceed that of the U.S.. Even with all our efforts to curb domestic demand, worldwide oil demand will increase about 2 percent this year, according to the IEA.”

    That’s quite a change from the 2004 numbers you cited, where the US consumed 20 million barrels/day, while the next highest consumption was by China, with only 6 million.

    It really makes me question how much my CF light bulbs are actually going to help things. :(

  5. If you are interested in Super Tanker you can read the book Brooklyn Steel Blood-Tenacity. It will take you into the world of shipbuilding in Brooklyn in the 1970’s. Great pictures.

  6. Since the vast majority of our oil comes from Canada and Mexico, big oil ships are not that important, but nonetheless I find the world of big ships and small ships and ocean going commerce most interesting. Thanks for all of your thoughts…L

  7. Check out the large supertanker docked at the Aruba refinery in Google maps.
    It’s about 210ft wide and 1300ft long.

  8. As we have a historic drought in Australia and some cites on the coast have no water dams, I ask this question. Is it feasible and cost effective to move water by supertanker from one State to another. I can imagine a supertanker discharging into a nearby lake or waterway.

    Seems to me that if Isambard Brunel was around today he would find a way to make this proposal to work.

  9. Like it or not, oil is here to stay. its where we get asphalt for roads, plastic, grease for bearings, and God only knows what else. I am a barge tankerman, and i load and unload barges (not ships) regularly. we might get lucky and load a barge at a rate of 8-10 thousand barrels an hour,
    whereas ships, at least the ones at exxon baton rouge might load at about 40,000 an hour. and that was on a 500,000 bbl ship. thats smokin’ but I think we load proportionately faster, but you have to on your toes or you can have a screwup. The fastest Ive ever loaded a barge by myself was 2 hr and 40 mins, (8200 an hour) and me and another guy did 2 at once in 5 hours… (9200 an hour.) the fastest rate ive ever done though was 13,000 an hour but it was a sea going barge and held 165,000 bbls. at about 6000 bbls it sounds like rocks going thru the pipeline. like the one comment, I been to most inland and some offshore docks between Brownsville Tx to searsport Maine, and I have never seen a supertanker. The word ive heard is the smaller ships go to deep water and lighter them and bring them in

  10. Oil is here to stay??????? Somebody thinks oil is a renewable energy source. For your information, we’ve already used up roughly half of all the oil we had, that we will EVER have. No. Oil is not “here to stay”. Take off your hallucinogen filled goggles and smell the coffee. We’re due for a very rough awakening somewhere between 2010 and 2015. If we’re lucky, we’ll go the way of Cuba (Cuba HAS gone through its own “peak oil crisis” after the collapse of the soviet Union, and has made a pretty decent comeback… yes it’s industrial output is “marginal” but guess where ours will be without oil). If we’re unlucky, it will be more like Haiti and Somalia. I hope we’ll have the courage and foresight to start integrating the Cuban measures before the shit hits the fan, to soften the blow. The current financial crisis is only a forerunner. The economy will never completely recover, as it will appear that we have a new boom, the price of oil will skyrocket again, and something else will crumble… there will be the same blame game, where the perpetrators of this new economic collapse will be called upon to be chastized. And another round of economic almost boom, and another collapse. It will take time for people to realize what is happening, cause we just want to believe that “oil is hear to stay” .

  11. I work in the industry and was onboard the Jahre Viking (name at the time) and believe me she was huge. I believe she is currently used for storage and no longer transports. One walk around her deck was close to a mile. Good times, you don’t see too many ULCC’s anymore mainly due to the scare of a spill. A few were recently built by a Greek company and sold, they now go under the name TI. TI Africa, Asia, Europe, think there is six in all. They are smalller that the Viking, well everything is smaller than her since she is the biggest moveable object on the water, period. But the new vessels have their decks painted white so believe me you will know when you see one.

  12. There are 4 ULCC’s in the world – 2 are currently transporting (TI Oceania, TI Europe) and 2 are being converted for FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading).

    The LOOP off of Louisianna can handle VLCCs (2million barrels) as well as Freeport Bahamas off of Florida – at the berth, otherwise they lighter.

    Its not the spills being the reason they are not built – its the volitile swings in the market. Carrying around 4 million barrels of oil, and a drop of $5 a barrel in the price by the time you get to sell it can hurt.

  13. The worse thing you can do is deliberately lie in comments of this kind. Someone above said that the USA produces 40% of it’s own oil. Not true! THE USA produces 2% of the oil it uses, but consumes 25% of the world’s oil. But don’t take my word for it. Just stop relying on what you read on the internet. with it tens of thousands of so-called “news” information.” it’s a poor source of news. Get yourself an education, or at very least, go to your library readingroom and read credible magazines such as “The Economist.”

    The Roman, Seneca, put it best 2,000 years ago. “When you are everywhere, you are nowhere.”

  14. The worse thing you can do is deliberately lie in comments of this kind. Someone above said that the USA produces 40% of it’s own oil. Not true! THE USA produces 2% of the oil it uses, but consumes 25% of the world’s oil. But don’t take my word for it. Just stop relying on what you read on the internet. with it tens of thousands of so-called “news” information commentary.” it’s a poor source of news. Get yourself an education, or at very least, go to your library readingroom and read credible magazines such as “The Economist.”

    The Roman, Seneca, put it best 2,000 years ago. “When you are everywhere, you are nowhere.”

  15. Um, last time I looked it up, we produced 5 million barrels domesticly. Or about 25%… Not 2% and not 40%. Using the above 10 super tanker model, it would take about 7.5 per day to import enough oil. However, as another reader said, we get most of our oil from Cananda, and Mexico. But Mexico, will become a net importer shortly…. No longer an exporter…

  16. I would love to get a conversation going about how the world’s economy might make better use of its super tanker fleet. For example, because of ongoing climate change, many areas of the world where people live do not have enough water to drink, much less water for crops and livestock. Also, because of climate change the Arctic and Greenland icecaps are melting at an unprecedented rate. The icecaps consist of frozen fresh water. If they melt and run off into the North Atlantic the increased fresh water has the potential to disrupt the flow of the North Atlantic currents, which tend to keep Europe’s atmosphere warmer than would normally be expected. So my question is, why not send the tankers back to North Africa and the Eastern Med, after a stopover in Greenland, with their tanks filled with fresh water? The water would then be piped from the coast to the dry areas in sub-Sahara Africa. With a large indigenous population to work on agricultural projects and an extremely long growing season, sub-Sahara Africa could become the breadbasket of Northern Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe. I’ll let someone else to the math, but I would like to know the cost of delivering a gallon of fresh water from Greenland to the coast of Africa?

  17. If you want upto date information on any industry read their trade journals. Probably most informative on oil industry is the “Oil and Gas Journal”. They give weekly data on crude oil imports, inventories, product inventories, ect.

  18. so who is the idiot that think oil is, “here to stay”.

    more magical thinking in the absence of nonrenewable limits to maintain our dreamy lifestyle. after spending 10 or god knows more hours commuting on a highway/parking lot, I don’t think I am going to miss it!

  19. The people who think oil is here to stay may be right in the long-run, if any. there are serious scientists who suspect that oil is made in the depth of the earth somewhere, maybe by the bacteria that live down there. Oil apparently does refill depleted reservoirs to some extent. Just might take a long time…

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