Photograph of
          pipeline being ceremonially joined at U.S.-Canada border,

Library and Archives Canada

Pipelines are infrastructure used to move liquids long distances, generally from point of production to point of use. Oil was the principal commodity move by pipeline at the time of the Pacific War.

Although the United States produced ample oil, there was difficulty getting oil from the production fields to areas such as the East Coast where demand was high. Oil was most economically transported via tanker in 1941, with transport by pipeline costing three times as much and transport by rail tanker car ten times as much. Because there was no pipeline connection from California to the eastern United States in 1941, and transport by rail or by tanker through the Panama Canal was uneconomical, California production was consumed almost entirely around the Pacific Rim. While the port of Los Angeles sat practically on top of a major oil field, the ports of San Diego and San Francisco Bay piped in oil from the production fields.

The shortage of tankers and expense of rail tanker cars prompted the construction of pipelines from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast, but these were delayed by political opposition orchestrated by rail concerns. The Cole Bill authorizing government construction of the pipelines passed in the summer of 1941, and work finally began to go forward in August of that year. The Plantation pipeline from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Greensboro, North Carolina was completed by the time war broke out, and in June 1942, the "Big Inch" and "Little Inch" pipelines from Texas to New York were approved. Big Inch was a 24" (61 cm) pipeline, while Little Inch was a 20" (51 cm) pipeline following a somewhat longer route. Big Inch reached New York in October 1943 and Little Inch reached Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, in February 1944. At their peaks, Big Inch moved 334.456 barrels of oil daily while Little Inch moved 239,844 barrels daily. Each required about 80 megawatts of power for its pumps and heaters. (Heavy fuel oil is so viscous that it must be heated before it can be pumped.) Big Inch cost 38 cents a barrel versus 40 cents per barrel for tankers and $1.74 for rail tank cars, while Little Inch was even more economical at 24 cents per barrel. The pipelines quickly paid for themselves.


Klein (2013)

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