Waterborne transportation: Oil barges

A barge is a flat-bottomed boat, built mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods. Some barges are not self-propelled and need to be towed or pushed by towboats. Oil barge is specially designed for carrying base oil and finished oil with flashpoint below 60°C. Similar to dumb barges, oil barge is generally flat-bottomed with absence of its own means of mechanical propulsion and to be towed or pushed by other craft such as tug boat*.

The first bulk transportation of oil in America was accomplished in wooden barges known as bulk boats. These were placed in operation on Oil Creek (Pennsylvania) and the Allegheny River in 1861-62. The vessels were decked over to keep the contents from sloshing out. The deck also allowed the boatmen to better handle the sweeps and manage the barge. It was also quickly learned that the cargo space had to be fitted with a series of wooden bulkheads (baffles) so that the motion of the oil could be controlled.

Barges play a vital role in America’s transportation system. More than 30 percent of the oil and petroleum products used each year to fuel America’s industrial base and new high tech economy moves by barge. There are 3,950 U.S. tank barges that move 68.9 billion gallons oil in U.S. waters annually. Of this number, 630 are coastal tank barges and the remainder are inland tank barges.

* A tug boat is a boat that is used to maneuver, primarily by towing or pushing, other vessels in harbours, over the open sea or through rivers and canals. Tugboats are also used to tow barges, disabled ships, or other equipment like towboats


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