Frequently Asked Questions

Colonial often receives questions about what we do and how we operate. Below are some of the more common questions we receive. If you can’t find an answer to your question here, or elsewhere on our website, please contact us.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of petroleum products are transported by Colonial?

Colonial transports various grades of gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil, jet fuel and fuels for the U.S. military. The products Colonial carries are fungible, meaning they are interchangeable. The different brands of gasoline take on their specific brand qualities when additives are placed in the product by our customers, and after the product has left the pipeline.

Colonial has active product codes for 38 different grades of gasoline-including reformulated gasoline (RFG) and multiple vapor pressures for each grade, seven grades of kerosene (including two for military), 16 grades of home heating oil and diesel fuel (including diesel fuel marine for the U.S. Navy and light cycle oil) and one grade of transmix. Of the 62 codes, 29 are for fungible products and 33 are for products that must be shipped on a segregated basis.

How big are batches?

Mainline batches vary from 75,000 to 3,200,000 barrels. The smallest mainline batch (75,000 barrels) may be made up of three 25,000-barrel fungible batches. Batches delivered on smaller stublines vary from 2,500 barrels minimum up to 350,000 barrels.

What is the difference between fungible and segregated products?

Fungible products shipped on the Colonial system are generic products. These products meet published Colonial specifications. Shippers will receive equivalent product but may not get back the actual product shipped. Segregated products are branded products or blendstock materials. On segregated shipments shippers receive the same product they injected into the system.

How are different grades of product kept separate in the pipeline?

Different product batches are pushed through the system abutting each other. The stream is always in a turbulent flow condition which minimizes mixing. Products are sequenced in the pipeline according to their characteristics. For example, regular unleaded gasoline may be shipped next to a batch of premium unleaded gasoline. When the flow of product is “cut” or diverted for delivery or into a storage tanks, the “cut” is made to protect the entire premium gasoline batch, thus allowing some premium to be added to the regular, unleaded gasoline. Similar steps are taken to protect distillate products such as jet fuel, Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) and home heating oil. When products with incompatible characteristics come into contact with each other, the resulting interface is defined as transmix. Transmix is stored separately and re-processed into a useful product.

What are Colonial's quantity requirements for shipments?

Colonial's minimum quantity or "tender" of products to be shipped on a segregated batch basis is 75,000 barrels. However, several shippers may make up joint fungible batches by tendering a minimum of 25,000 barrels each. Deliveries to final destinations in most cases may carry from a minimum of 2,500 barrels delivered on stublines to 5,000 barrels delivered on mainlines.

How fast do products move in the pipeline?

At about three to five miles per hour in mainlines. The greater the volume being transported on a given day, the faster the product moves. It generally takes from 14 to 24 days for a batch to get from Houston, Texas to the New York harbor, with 18.5 days the average time.

Who owns the petroleum being transported?

The shipping companies. Colonial neither buys nor sells petroleum products. It provides transportation services only.  On average, it costs between two cents and 4.5 cents to transport a gallon of fuel. Guidelines for rates charged by Colonial and other petroleum pipelines are set annually by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Companies can then apply for rate changes, which are reviewed by the FERC. Transportation costs are stable and do not fluctuate with the cost of crude oil or prices at the pump.

What are “smart pigs?”

Smart pigs is a term used to describe sophisticated electronic equipment that travels inside the pipeline looking for anomalies or signs of the pipe wall weakening. Different tools are designed for different purposes, such as detecting cracks, thinning of the wall or other issues that would require the pipeline to be excavated for closer inspection and, if necessary, repaired or replaced. Research into technology such as smart pigs is an important investment in pipeline safety made by Colonial, the rest of the pipeline industry, the U.S. goverment's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). 

Do older pipelines need to be replaced?

Properly maintained, steel pipelines can last virtually forever. This requires proper maintenance, inspections and steps to prevent corrosion. When a section of pipeline needs repair, it can be cut out and replaced with new pipe. If the issues are located in a relatively small section of pipe, operators will sometimes install a “sleeve” around that section of pipe. Once welded in place, the repaired section of pipe is ready to be placed into service. The proper maintenance and inspection of pipelines are but two ways pipeline companies ensure the safety of their operations.

Call Before You Dig

Building a new fence or installing a swimming pool in your back yard? Is the local utility running new underground lines in your neighborhood? Be sure to call “8-1-1” before you dig near a pipeline right of way to prevent accidents and ensure safety.


Safety First

Colonial Pipeline Company is committed to safety and environmental stewardship across all of our operations. This philosophy is fundamental to the success of our business. Please visit our Safety & Environment page to learn more about our operating principles.