The downstream sector of the petroleum industry is a part of the industry that is responsible for final processing, product distribution and marketing. The Downstream Sector processes crude oil into finished products like heating oil, asphalt, lubricants, synthetic rubber, plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals. It is also where supply meets demand and where customers meet companies.
All retail outlets such as gas stations are included in the downstream sector of the industry. This is where the efficiency of the midstream and upstream effects how much and for what price oil can be sold. The more efficient the previous processes, the more efficient the downstream process will be. Downstream also includes marketing, customer service and strategic planning for the sale and distribution of finished products.
At oil refineries, the crude oil that has been transported via pipeline from upstream operations is converted into useable forms including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and even antifreeze and propane.
Jobs in the downstream sector include process hazard analysts, tax accountants, plant operators, maintenance supervisors, contracts managers and instrument engineers.
Oil and Gas Refining
In order for crude oil to be synthesized into usable products, it must first be processed. The refining process for crude oil follows a regimented process. At the center of this process is simple distillation. It follows that because crude oil is made up of several different hydrocarbons, that the first step in the refining process involves separating those different molecules apart into separate groups or fractions. The separation method takes advantage of the different boiling points of the hydrocarbons. The crude oil is then heated up in distillation columns where they evaporate and are then ready to be separated. The lightest of the chemicals evaporate first and usually are further processed into liquid petroleum or naphtha. Hydrocarbons with middle evaporate temperatures-called middle distillates-produce jet fuel and kerosene while the heaviest elements form residual fuel oil. To recover the heaviest elements, temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit must sometimes be reached.
As with any industry, the goal of marketing is to inform customers that your product exists and that it will make their lives better. This is not a difficult sell in the United States, crude oil’s largest market. Millions of passenger cars are sold every year. With car sales that high, and with gasoline as the only means to power these cars, marketing execs at oil companies have no problem selling their product.