Fuels Facts

The U.S. petroleum refining and distribution industry is a large and complex system:

  • 140 refineries (owned by over 60 companies) with aggregate crude oil processing capacity of 18 million barrels per calendar day
  • 126,000 miles of crude oil and refined petroleum product pipelines
  • 334 crude oil and petroleum product ports
  • 38 Jones Act vessels (U.S. flag ships which move products between U.S. ports)
  • 3,300 coastal, Great Lakes and river tank barges
  • 200,000 rail tank cars
  • 1,414 petroleum product terminals
  • 100,000 tank trucks
  • 153,000 retail motor fuel outlets

Gasoline is the largest volume petroleum product, accounting for nearly half of U.S. petroleum product production. Highway (or on road) diesel represents 15 percent of the average production at a domestic refinery.

The refining industry responds to changes in demand and economics by adjusting processes and blending procedures to vary the yield of finished products. There are many different petroleum products. Fuels, nonfuel products, and petrochemical feedstocks are petroleum product categories.

1. Fuels

  • Gasoline
    -Motor Gasoline (Types: reformulated gasoline (RFG), conventional gasoline)
    -Aviation gasoline
  • Distillate Fuel Oil
    -Diesel: highway and off-highway (or nonroad) Off-highway examples:  locomotives, ships, farm tractors, bulldozers, forklifts, underground mining equipment, backhoes, cranes
    -Home heating oil: space heating, electricity generation, crop drying, fuel for irrigation pumps on farms
  • Jet Fuel
    -Kerosene-type: commercial and Military Grades JP-5 and JP-8
    -Naphtha-type: Military Grade JP-4
  • Kerosene
    -Uses: space heating, cooking stoves, water heaters, lamp oil
  • Residual Fuel Oil
    -Uses: fire boilers to provide steam for heating or electricity generation, ships (bunker fuel)
  • Liquefied Refinery Gases (LRG)
    -Ethane/ethylene, propane/propylene, normal butane/butylene, isobutane/isobutylene
  • Still Gas or Refinery Gas
    -Uses: a refinery fuel

2. Nonfuel Products

  • Asphalt
  • Lubricants
    -Uses: engine oil, gear oil, automatic transmission fluid
  • Petroleum Coke
    -Uses: carbon electrodes, electric switches
  • Road Oil
    -Uses: dust suppressor, surface treatment on roads, roofing, waterproofing
  • Solvents
  • Wax
    -Uses: chewing gum, candles, crayons, sealing wax, canning wax, polishes
  • Miscellaneous
    -Uses: cutting oil, petroleum jelly, fertilizers

3. Petrochemical Feedstocks

  • Examples: benzene, toluene, xylene, ethane, ethylene, propane, propylene, naphtha, gas oil
  • Uses: solvents, detergents, synthetic fibers, synthetic rubber, plastics, medicine, cosmetics

Frequently Asked Questions

What is gasoline?

A mixture of hydrocarbons for use as an automotive (spark-ignition internal combustion engine) fuel. Key properties include aromatic content, benzene content, distillation percentage/temperatures, octane, olefins content, oxygen content, Reid vapor pressure, and sulfur content. Reformulated, oxygenated and low RVP (Reid vapor pressure) conventional are types of gasoline.

Gasoline specifications include ASTM D 4814 (Standard Specification for Automotive Spark-Ignition Engine Fuel) and EPA regulations in 40 CFR Part 80. In addition, many states have their own gasoline standards (click here for AFPM’s summary of state and local gasoline fuel requirements).

What is octane?

The octane rating measures the anti-knock (uneven combustion) properties of motor gasoline.

What is diesel fuel?

A mixture of hydrocarbons for use as a heavy-duty truck (compression ignition engine) fuel. Key properties include aromatic content, cetane number/index, distillation temperatures, and sulfur content. Highway, off-road or nonroad (i.e. farm and construction), railroad and marine are types of diesel fuel.

Diesel fuel specifications include ASTM D 975 (Standard Specification for Diesel Fuel Oils) and EPA regulations in 40 CFR Part 80 and 40 CFR Section 69.51. In addition, a few states have their own diesel fuel standards (click here for AFPM’s summary of state and local gasoline and diesel fuel requirements).

What is heating oil?

A mixture of hydrocarbons for use as a burner or furnace fuel and meets the specifications in ASTM D 396 (Standard Specification for Fuel Oils).

What is distillate fuel oil?

A general classification that includes diesel fuel and heating oil.

What is jet fuel?

A mixture of hydrocarbons for use as a commercial and military aircraft fuel.

What is petroleum coke?

A relatively pure carbon residue.

What is a barrel?

42 U.S. gallons

What is U.S. demand for finished petroleum products?

In 2016:

(million barrels/day)

Gasoline 9.3
Distillate Fuel Oil 3.9
Jet Fuel 1.6
Other finished petroleum products* 2.4
Total 17.2

*Includes residual fuel oil, naphtha and other oils for petrochemical feedstocks, lubricants, waxes, petroleum coke, asphalt and road oil, still gas and other miscellaneous products.

In 2016, domestic petroleum product demand was met by:

(million barrels/day)

Domestic Production Imports Exports
Gasoline 10 0.1 0.6
Distillate Fuel Oil 4.8 0.1 1.2
Jet Fuel 1.6 0.1 0.2
Other finished petroleum products* 3.0 0.4 1.0

*Includes residual fuel oil, naphtha and other oils for petrochemical feedstocks, lubricants, waxes, petroleum coke, asphalt and road oil, still gas and other miscellaneous products.

Although 95% of total refined petroleum product demand is produced domestically, approximately 45% of the crude oil refined in the U.S. is imported from other nations.

How are finished petroleum products distributed around the country?

Local refinery production, net imports and net receipts (from one domestic region to another) are possible sources of petroleum product fuel supply. The East Coast is dependent on supply from distant sources, Gulf Coast refineries and imports; East Coast refineries contribute only about 30% of local demand. The Midwest is dependent on supply from the East and Gulf Coasts. The Rocky Mountain area and the West Coast are self-sufficient. The refineries in the Gulf Coast meet local needs, contribute about half of the East Coast petroleum product demand, and are significant suppliers to Midwest consumers.

These region-to-region movements are significant because petroleum products are transported by pipelines and barges at slow rates (only a few miles an hour) and over long distances. Examples of long-distance pipelines moving petroleum products from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast are Colonial Pipeline (1,500 miles) and Plantation Pipe Line (1,100 miles). Explorer Pipeline (1,830 miles) is a long distance example from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest. It can take 1.5 to 2 weeks for petroleum product to travel the entire length of these interstate pipeline systems.