Trans-Arabian Pipeline

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Pipeline transporting crude oil from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean.

The Trans-Arabian Pipeline (Tapline) was constructed by the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) to carry crude oil from Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, to the Mediterranean coast. As originally conceived during World War II, the line was to follow a great circular route running northwest through Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which would have located the Mediterranean terminus at Haifa, then part of the British Mandate of Palestine. The post-war conflict over the disposition of Palestine ended in the ArabIsrael War (1948) that put Haifa in the new state of Israel. Tapline's route, more than 1,000 miles long, was altered to run through Syria and site its western terminus a few miles south of Sidon, Lebanon.

The construction of Tapline was hastened by the end of the Red Line Agreement, which brought a new infusion of capital into ARAMCO as the result of the removal of the restriction preventing Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon) and Socony Vacuum (now Mobil; both combined as Exxon Mobil) from joining the partnership then composed of SOCAL (now Chevron) and Texaco. Capital was not the only requirement in short supply. Steel was also scarce following the end of World War II, and its allocation was controlled by the U.S. government. A second important factor speeding the construction of Tapline was support from the administration of U.S. president Harry S. Truman, which regarded Middle Eastern oil as crucial to the success of the Marshall Plan.

When Tapline was built, it was the world's largest privately financed construction project. At the peak of construction, it employed more than sixteen thousand men. Towns were constructed at Qaysumah, Rafha, Badana, and Turayf, where the four main pumping stations in Saudi Arabia were located. Initial capacity was 320,000 barrels per day. In 1957 auxiliary pumping stations were installed, raising capacity to 450,000 barrels per day. Tapline's capacity in 2003 was 500,000 barrels per day.

Tapline increased ARAMCO's capacity to export crude oil and reduced its oil-transport expenses. This prompted the government of Saudi Arabia to demand 50 percent of Tapline's profits under the fifty-fifty profit-sharing agreement that governed oil production. ARAMCO argued that transport was not covered under the profit-sharing agreement and claimed that Tapline was not an affiliate of ARAMCO but a separate company. After years of negotiations, the company agreed in 1963 to pay Saudi Arabia half the difference, after costs were deducted, between the price of petroleum at Raʾs Tannurah and the price at Sidon. The agreement, retroactive to 1953, netted the government $93 million in arrears.

Tapline and other pipelines in the region not only reduce transport costs and increase oil-export capacity but also provide alternatives to shipping from the Persian Gulf or through the Suez Canal. However, pipelines have security problems. Syria halted the passage of oil through Tapline for twenty-four hours in October 1956 during the ArabIsrael War, and in Syria a tractor ruptured Tapline in May 1970, just as Libya was restricting the production of Occidental Petroleum during the early days of the "squeeze." This blocked the transit of 500,000 barrels of crude from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean, triggering an immediate threefold rise in oil-tanker rates. The vulnerability of Tapline was highlighted by several incidents of sabotage in 1973, including an armed attack on the Sidon terminal and attacks on the pipeline itself in Syria and in Saudi Arabia.

In order to counter some of the strategic liabilities of relying so heavily on Tapline for pipeline transport, Saudi Arabia constructed a 720-mile crude-oil pipeline, Petroline, from the eastern oil fields to Yanbu, on the Red Sea, in 1981. A parallel line, connected to a spur running from Iraq's southern oil fields, was constructed to enable Iraq to export oil from Saudi Arabia during its war with Iran. This line was closed under United Nations sanctions following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The Saudis seized ownership in June 2001. Petroline, located entirely within Saudi Arabia, carried a maximum of 5 million barrels per day at its peak. In 2003 utilization was about half this capacity to accommodate the conversion of the line to carry natural gas. Like Tapline, Petroline increases the kingdom's export flexibility and demonstrates its commitment to a secure supply of hydrocarbon fuels to consumers.

see also arabian american oil company (aramco); petroleum, oil, and natural gas; petroleum reserves and production; red line agreement.


Nawwab, Ismail I.; Speers, Peter C.; and Hoye, Paul F.; eds. ARMACO and Its World: Arabia and the Middle East. Dhahran, Saudi Arabia: ARMACO Dhahran, 1980.

Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

mary ann tÉtreault