Everywhere in the world the business of getting petroleum from deep in the ground to customers on the surface follows similar, inexorable paths. First, locations where oil is likely to exist must be discovered. Then wells are drilled to bring the crude, if found, to the top. The oil must next be moved varying distances either to tankers as is or to refineries for processing. Calling on skilled applications of geology, physics and chemistry, the steps are carried out with specialized motor vehicles, sensitive instruments, tall drilling derricks, vessels and storage tanks of every conceivable size and shape, and pipelines that are thin and fat, vertical and horizontal, straight—or as convoluted as spaghetti.
Modern oil operations equipment is nothing if not functional; every expensive valve, vent, panel, pipe and tower has been installed for a specific purpose. Yet to the casual observer, standing on the ground, the net impression of the more complex plants especially is one of utter confusion. Often it is only when oil exploration, production, refining and shipping can be seen from aloft that the variegated patterns of iron and steel associated with the industry's physical appearance fall neatly into place.