Downstream oil and gas industry

Downstream industry is the portion of the oil and natural gas industry that is responsible for the refining, distributing, and retail of petroleum products. This portion of industry includes oil refineries, petrochemical plants, petroleum products distributors, and natural gas distribution companies. Downstream industry provides numerous products such as jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, synthetic rubber, plastics, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, natural gas, and propane.[1]

Figure 1. Representation of upstream, midstream, and downstream industry.[2]

The different sectors within the downstream industry include:[3]

Environmental Impacts

There are several environmental impacts that can be connected to various downstream petroleum activities. Distribution activities can be heavily reliant on fossil fuels, which can result in more greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. These emissions include carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx); along with occasional releases of hazardous materials such as solvents or groundwater contamination from production.[4] 2013 estimates report that the downstream oil and gas sector contributed about 5% of the sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions, 1% of the nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx), and 2% of the volatile organic compound emissions in Canada.[5] These values are significantly lower than the emissions for upstream industry. Moreover, since distribution is a component of downstream oil and gas, the possibility of leaks exists.

Gasoline stations are particularly notorious for emitting volatile organic compounds.

Interactive Graph

For an interactive graph showing what pollutants arise from downstream oil industry click here. The values can be compared as well to emissions from upstream and midstream industry. The pollutant being looked at is automatically set to sulfur oxides, but try changing the pollutant to nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, or carbon monoxide!

For Further Reading


  1. PSAC. (June 11, 2015). Industry Overview [Online]. Available:
  2. Created internally by a member of the Energy Education team.
  3. Careers in Oil and Gas. (June 12, 2015). Downstream Industry [Online]. Available:
  4. E. La Rovere, J. Mariano. (June 12, 2015). Environmental Impacts of the Oil Industry [Online]. Available:
  5. Environment Canada. (July 28, 2015). Air Pollutant Emissions [Online]. Available:

Authors and Editors

Bethel Afework, Jordan Hanania, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: September 3, 2018
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