The world runs on oil (and coal, not covered here), and the majority of oil is shipped via tanker. There is literally no current, reasonable way to stop dependency on oil, despite the environmental movement towards alternative energies. Especially despite any efforts to regulate carbon. Theories abound on how to transition away from it, but there’s simply no end-point in sight.
With that, take a look at how oil travels across the globe. Usually it’s pumped either directly to a refinery, or directly to huge tanker ships, or both. Below are 7 “chokepoints” where huge oil tankers have to navigate treacherous waters and equally treacherous political strife.
Strait of Hormuz, Oman/Iran/UAW. Hormuz (middle right) is the most important oil choke point in the world. 16.5 million barrels per day ship out of the Middle East, representing 40% of the world’s tanker delivered oil.
Strait of Malacca, Malaysia/Indonesia (bottom right). 15 million barrels per day. Highly susceptible to piracy and collisions. A spill here would destroy invaluable ocean resources and some of the rarest species on earth. In light of these risks, China has begun building the largest oil pipelines ever built.
Suez Canal, Egypt. The tightest, and perhaps most vulnerable, about 1.5 million barrels traverse this narrow canal. Very Large and Ultra Large tankers are too big to fit through the Suez, restricting the flow of oil north from the middle east. Considering it opens into the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, it’s for the best.
Bab el-Mandeb, Somalia/Yemen/Eritrea/Ethiopia allowing 3-5 million barrels per day. Located at the Horn of Africa into the Red Sea, it provides access to billions of dollars of goods traveling to and from the Mediterranean and to and from the Indian Ocean. Bab el-Mandeb is strategically valuable on many levels, especially militarily. It also is the northern nest for Somalian pirates.
Bosporus, Turkey. Connects the Asia to Europe, providing 3-5 million barrels per day. It’s also an export route for Russia and former Soviet states, the Bosporus is the world’s busiest chokepoints.
Panama Canal, Panama. 50 miles long, and ultra narrow, most oil tankers cannot fit through the canal, which is why only around 1 million barrels of oil are shipped through here.
Danish/Swedish Straits (center left)(apologies for the crazy map!). About 3-5 million barrels traverse the dangerously rocky straights of the Baltic. Hundreds of container ship accidents occur every year in these waters. While the waters are relatively calm, they are very shallow with rocky outcroppings on the sea floors.
Finally, here’s The Big Picture, showing all the chokepoints on one map. (Note: this summary map is a bit old, so the volumes are not up to date. My sources for bblpd are here and also here. Contact me here if you spot errors. If you made it this far, thank you for reading my post!).