Trans-Panama Pipeline

From Global Energy Monitor


This article is part of the Global Fossil Infrastructure Tracker, a project of Global Energy Monitor.

The Trans-Panama Pipeline, known locally as Oleoducto Transístmico or Oleoducto Chiriqui Bocas del Toro, is an oil pipeline running between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Panama.


The pipeline originates at Chiriqui Grande Port in Bocas del Toro on Panama's Caribbean coast and terminates at Charco Azul Port on the country's Pacific coast.

The pipeline's route passes through the Caldera Pump Station in Panama's central mountain range (Serranía de Tabasará) and the municipalities of La Concepción and Puerto Armuelles.[1]

Loading map...

Project Details

  • Operator: Petroterminal de Panama (PTP)[2]
  • Current capacity: 860,000 barrels per day[3]
  • Length: 131 kilometers / 81 miles[4][5]
  • Status: Operating
  • Start Year: 1982[6]


The Trans-Panama Pipeline is Panama’s only oil pipeline and the only oil pipeline in the world to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.[5]

The pipeline was opened in 1982 as an alternative to carry crude oil from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.[6] In 1980s an average of 20 supertankers, each with a capacity of one million barrels of crude oil, arrived each month at Puerto Armuelles from Valdez, Alaska, for transportation to the Caribbean Sea.[7] Between 1982 and 1996 the pipeline transported 2.7 billion barrels of Alaskan oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast ports. After declining Alaskan oil shipments, the pipeline was closed in 1996.

In November 2003, the Trans-Panama pipeline was re-opened for transportation of Ecuadorian crude oil to U.S. Gulf ports.[3]

In 2005, Venezuela began talks about reversing the pipeline for its oil exports to China.[8] In May 2008, BP signed an agreement with Petroterminal de Panama S.A., according to which the pipeline was modernized and reversed to ship BP's Angolan and other crude oil to the U.S. West Coast refineries. BP acquired 5 million barrels of storage capacities and committed to secure shipments of 65,000 barrels per day.[6] On 28 August 2009, Tesoro oil company started reverse oil shipments through the pipeline to supply the Atlantic Basin oil to the Pacific Rim refineries.[9]

On 15 October 2009, Petroterminal de Panama S.A. signed a contract with Chicago Bridge & Iron Company to design and construct the second-phase expansion of terminal storage facilities.[10]

Technical features

The pipeline is 131 km long[4], and it has a capacity of 860,000 barrels per day.[3] Pipeline diameter is 36 inches between Chiriqui Grande on the Atlantic coast and the Caldera (Chiriquí province) compressor station; diameter increases to 40 inches between the Caldera compression station and Charco Azul on the Pacific coast.[4] The pipeline's terminal installations are located in Charco Azul Bay, 7 km south of Puerto Armuelles, Puerto Armuelles, with three docks constructed to receive supertankers, a system to treat ballast water, and three large tanks with a total capacity of 2.5 million barrels of crude oil. From 1979 to 1982, before construction of the pipeline, these facilities were utilized to transfer petroleum from large supertankers (200,000 tons) to smaller tankers (65,000 tons) that could transit the Panama Canal.[7]

Environmental concerns & opposition

Many environmental concerns about the pipeline have been raised by scientists and environmental advocates. However, PTP has applied little restraint in the construction and operations of the pipeline with respect to consideration of the environment. For example, the pipeline project was approved and completed before submission of an environmental impact assessment.[7] Furthermore, the environmental studies conducted appeared to have serious flaws and many omissions.[7] PTP did not give serious attention to the possibility of oil spills and the resulting effects on marine or terrestrial ecosystems. For example, studies regarding the impacts of an oil spill on the marine ecosystems were not performed.[7] Erosion control was minimal and thousands of tons soil were displaced during construction. Many forests, rivers and creeks were damaged or destroyed, resulting in negative impact on natural ecosystems. Pipeline construction through the mountains of Fortuna (Boquete and Gualaca) in Central Cordillera was later the base for the construction of the first road from Chiriqui to Bocas del Toro. The road construction resulted in overall biodiversity losses in the Palo Seco Forestal Reserve and buffer area along the coast from Chiriqui Grande to Almirante-Changuinola and Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle.

On February 4, 2007, as oil from the pipeline was being loaded onto the tanker Petrovsk, more than 5000 barrels of crude spilled from a faulty valve, severely impacting marine life and coastal settlements along the Chiriquí Lagoon on Panama's Caribbean coast.[11] Fisheries in the region were forced to close for nearly three months, and clean-up efforts lasted more than six months. [12] Members of 54 affected coastal communities joined forces to protest the spill's devastating impact and seek compensation through rallies, meetings and legal action. The communities of Bahía Ballena, Cayo de Agua, Chiriquí Grande, Isla Tigre, Piña, and Punta Laurel were especially hard hit. [13]


The pipeline is owned and operated by Petroterminal de Panama S.A., a joint venture of the Government of Panama and the NIC Holding Corporation located in the town of Melville, on Long Island (NY).[2]

Articles and resources


  1. "Gallery: Trans-Panama Pipeline (image 4 of 5)". Petroterminal de Panamá S.A. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Perfil Corporativo". Petroterminal de Panamá, S.A. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Fellers, Gordon (1 June 2004). "Where are the world's oil transit chokepoints?". Pipeline & Gas Journal. Retrieved 2008-05-31.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Oleoducto Transístmico". Petroterminal de Panamá, S.A. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Petroterminal de Panamá logra incremento de 20% en almacenamiento y traslado de petróleo". ANPanamá. February 4, 2020.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "The Crude from Transpanama – Pipeline Shipments from the Gulf to the Pacific Coasts". RBN Energy. August 15, 2013.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Suman, Daniel (1987). "Socioenvironmental impacts of Panama's trans-isthmian pipeline". Environ. Impact Assess. Rev. 7: 227–246.
  8. "The Economics of Shipping Venezuelan Crude to China" (PDF). CEMTPP (Columbia University Center for Energy, Marine Transportation and Public Policy. September 2005.
  9. Smith, Christopher E. (2009-08-28). "Tesoro starts oil flow through reversed Panama pipeline". Oil & Gas Journal. PennWell Corporation. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  10. Watkins, Eric (2009-10-15). "Contract let for Panamanian terminal expansion". Oil & Gas Journal. PennWell Corporation. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  11. "Derrame brutal, apocalipsis en Chiriquí Grande". Panamá América. March 29, 2007.
  12. "El crudo que llegó al mar". La Prensa Panamá. May 18, 2008.
  13. "Trans-Panama Pipeline, Panama". Environmental Justice Atlas. Retrieved 2020-08-10.

Related articles

External resources

Wikipedia also has an article on the Trans-Panama pipeline. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.

External articles