Every day, 46.9 million barrels of oil flow through the world’s oil transit chokepoints: Narrow channels along widely used sea routes. The security of these lanes is critical—the global economy relies on the safe passage of ships through these passages, as the volumes of oil that flows through them represents roughly 50 percent of the world’s 94.4 million barrels per day of consumption.
Uncertainty over maritime security can lead to a global shifts in oil prices. If one of these chokepoints were disrupted, ships would need to travel additional thousands of miles to reach an alternate route. Even now, with the global oil market in a condition of oversupply, a meaningful disruption to one of these chokepoints could cause a sustained oil price spike. While some of these chokepoints can be avoided by taking a longer route, many are ultimately the only way to bring oil supply from certain producers to the market.
Arguably the world’s largest and most significant oil transit chokepoint is the Strait of Hormuz. This pinchpoint, which lies between the United Arab Emirates and Iran and separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, enables massive volumes of oil from Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE to flow to the global market. Every day, 17 million barrels of oil from these countries navigate the Strait, typically without incident. However, in 2011 and 2012, Iran made repeated threats to blockade the Strait of Hormuz. At the time, the New York Times reported that a successful blockade would immediately cause a 50 percent increase in oil prices, which were steady above $100 per barrel. The Strait, 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, could feasibly have been blockaded if not for the presence of the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, which was prepared to intervene.
The infographic above shows the locations of the world’s oil transit chokepoints, and the volumes of oil that pass through them on a daily basis, represented at scale.