If you’ve listened to any news about the oil and natural gas business, chances are you’ve heard these three terms. But do you know what they mean? Turns out they’re actually three related parts of the same thing – namely, the oil and natural gas industry.
This refers to anything having to do with the exploration and production of oil and natural gas. Geologic surveys and any information gathering used to locate specific areas where minerals are likely to be found is commonly called ‘exploration.’ The term ‘upstream’ also includes the steps involved in the actual drilling and bringing oil and natural gas resources to the surface, referred to as ‘production’.
The ‘midstream’ segment of the oil and natural gas industry refers to anything required to transport and store crude oil and natural gas before they are refined and processed into fuels and key elements needed to make a very long list of products we use every day. Midstream includes pipelines and all the infrastructure needed to move these resources long distances, such as pumping stations, tank trucks, rail tank cars and transcontinental tankers.
The final sector of the oil and natural gas industry is known as ‘downstream.’ This includes everything involved in turning crude oil and natural gas into thousands of finished products we depend on every day. Some of the more obvious products are fuels like gasoline, diesel, kerosene, jet fuels, heating oils and asphalt for building roads. But long-chain hydrocarbons found in both oil and natural gas are used to make far less obvious products like synthetic rubbers, fertilizers, preservatives, containers, and plastics for parts in countless products. Oil and natural gas products are even used to make artificial limbs, hearing aids and flame-retardant clothing to protect firefighters. In fact, paints, dyes, fibers and just about anything that is manufactured has some connection to oil and natural gas.
So now you know. ‘Upstream’ is about extracting oil and natural gas from the ground; ‘midstream’ is about safely moving them thousands of miles; and ‘downstream’ is converting these resources into the fuels and finished products we all depend on.
Together, these three sectors of the oil and natural gas industry sustain the steady flow of fuels and materials that make life better and safer for us all.