Connecting to Global Oil. The Construction of Oil Pipelines in the Rhine Basin, 1955-1960
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Original version10.5771 / 9783845284736-203
The transition from coal to oil after WWII reshaped the Rhine region’s energy supply infrastructure, as its industries replaced domestic coal with foreign oil. Pipelines were constructed to connect the growing refineries in the Rhine region to ports where imported crude oil landed. In theory, a trans-European pipeline system extending from the French port of Marseille could meet the entire crude oil requirements of the inland refineries in France, West Germany and Switzerland, as well as the seaboard refineries in the North Sea ports. Multinational oil companies proposed such a transnational pipeline system as a rational and efficient solution. Nevertheless, the fragmented political landscape of pre-integration Europe created uncertainty about the feasibility of the pipeline. Moreover, within multinational oil companies, the interests of the head offices and the national subsidiaries diverged to the extent that regional pipelines involving less uncertainty were given preference over the potentially more efficient transnational system. As a result, the crude oil pipeline system that was actually constructed consisted of a number of regional pipelines divided in a northern section extending from the North Sea ports and a southern section originating in Marseille. The two sections were not integrated and divided the Rhine region in two: Rotterdam and Wilhelmshaven supplied the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main areas; and Marseille supplied the Upper Rhine area up to Karlsruhe. The division between the two pipeline systems was further amplified by the rapidly growing size of crude oil tankers after the 1956 Suez Crisis, with the result being that long sea routes became cheaper relative to long overland pipeline routes. This division has persisted to the present day.