The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released a report on world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil, which are a critical part of global energy security.
The EIA defines world oil chokepoints as narrow channels along widely used global sea routes, some so narrow that restrictions are placed on the size of the vessel that can navigate through them. Chokepoints are a critical part of global energy security because of the high volume of petroleum and other liquids transported through their narrow straits.
About 61% of the world’s petroleum and other liquids production moved on maritime routes in 2015. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit.
In 2015, total world petroleum and other liquids supply was about 96.7 million barrels per day (b/d). EIA estimates that about 61% that amount (58.9 million b/d) traveled via seaborne trade. Oil tankers accounted for almost 28% of the world’s shipping by deadweight tonnage in 2016, according to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), having fallen steadily from 50% in 1980.
International energy markets depend on reliable transport routes. Blocking a chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and world energy prices. Chokepoints also leave oil tankers vulnerable to theft from pirates, terrorist attacks, political unrest in the form of wars or hostilities, and shipping accidents that can lead to disastrous oil spills.
The seven chokepoints highlighted in the report are part of major trade routes for global seaborne oil transportation. Disruptions to these routes could affect oil prices and add thousands of miles of transit in alternative routes. By volume of oil transit, the Strait of Hormuz, leading out of the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Malacca (linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans) are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints. This report also discusses the role of the Cape of Good Hope, which is not a chokepoint but is a major trade route and potential alternate route to certain chokepoints.