How many big oil pipelines are there in the US? How far do they travel?

This one is not a philosophical question. There are precisely 4 324 049 kilometres of pipeline splayed across the United States like a giant spider-web. It’s harder to say exactly how many pipelines there are – certainly several hundred, possibly many more. The system is a largely invisible (mostly underground) network of pipes of various sizes and functions.

Some are 5 to 10 centimetres in diameter. (These would be so-called gathering lines that connect production facilities to larger pipes or, alternatively, “distribution” pipelines that provide natural gas within cities.) Others range from 20 to 60 centimetres (“trunk lines” used for point-to-point transmission of things such as petrol, diesel, jet fuel and crude oil). The Trans-Alaska system, at 1,2 metres in diameter, is among the chunkiest trunks in the US, and it isn’t even attached to a Kardashian.

The longest pipelines run more than 1 500 kilometres, starting in Canada and terminating at various Gulf Coast and eastern seaports. Notably, no pipeline crosses the country from east to west, which is probably a good thing as it would likely clog with aspiring screenwriters.

This article was originally published in the April 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.