How The Oil Industry Works

The Oil and Gas Industry is broken up into 3 “Streams”:
Upsteam, Midstream and Downstream

The Upstream Oil and Gas Industry

Often known as the exploration and production (E&P) sector, is involved in searching for potential underground or underwater oil and gas fields, drilling exploratory wells, and subsequently drilling and operating the wells that recover and bring the crude oil or raw natural gas to the surface. 

There are several ways that upstream companies can generate profits:


The profit generation journey starts with successful exploration. By using seismic technology to find the location of oil and gas reserves, companies can strategically plan drilling operations to tap into these resources. Successful exploration reduces the risk of dry wells and increases the potential for higher returns.


Once a potential site has been identified, drilling becomes the next step. Efficient and cost-effective drilling operations can significantly improve profit margins. New technologies, such as directional drilling, can increase the success rate and reduce the costs.


The production phase is where a significant portion of profits is made. Enhancing the efficiency of extraction techniques and optimizing production operations can significantly increase profitability. Advanced recovery techniques, such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR), can also boost production from mature fields.

The Midstream Sector of the Oil and Gas Industry

Provides a vital link between upstream production and downstream distribution, focusing on the processing, storage, transportation, and wholesale marketing of crude oil, natural gas, and their derivatives. 

Here are some ways that midstream companies can generate profits:


One of the primary sources of income for midstream companies is fees earned for transporting oil, gas, and refined products from production sites to refineries and then to distributors. This is usually done through pipelines, but also by rail, truck, or ship, depending on the location and specific requirements.

Storage and Terminaling Services

Midstream companies own and operate storage facilities, earning revenue by charging fees for the use of these facilities. They also provide terminaling services, handling the loading and unloading of petroleum products at these storage sites.

Processing and Refining

Before natural gas can be used, it often requires processing to remove impurities and separate natural gas liquids (NGLs) such as ethane, propane, and butane. Midstream companies earn fees for providing these services.


This process separates mixed NGL streams into individual pure components, which are often more valuable. Midstream companies can generate substantial profits by providing these fractionation services.

Wholesale Marketing

Midstream companies may also engage in the wholesale marketing of oil, gas, and NGLs, buying these commodities from upstream producers and selling them to downstream users or other wholesalers. Profits are generated from the price spread.

The Downstream Sector of the Oil and Gas Industry

Deals primarily with the marketing and distribution of products derived from crude oil and natural gas.

Here’s a look at different aspects of this sector where companies can generate profits:

Retail and Marketing

One of the main ways downstream companies generate profits is by selling refined petroleum products directly to consumers. This includes operating service stations where consumers can purchase gasoline and diesel, as well as other retail products.


Downstream companies also manage the distribution of refined products, ensuring they reach various endpoints, such as airports, factories, commercial businesses, and residential consumers.


The downstream sector often includes petrochemical operations, which convert refined petroleum and natural gas into chemical products. These could be plastics, fertilizers, or a multitude of other chemical compounds. The petrochemical industry often enjoys higher profit margins than fuel products.


Selling refined products in large quantities to industrial or commercial clients is another key downstream activity. These might include manufacturing firms, power plants, or other oil and gas companies.

Specialized Products

The creation and sale of specialized petroleum products, such as lubricants, waxes, and asphalt, can also contribute to the profitability of downstream companies.

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