The complex multi-step journey a barrel of crude oil takes from wellhead to the consumer’s fuel tank is a little-known and often misunderstood story. This summer the CHS energy and transportation teams had the opportunity to provide insights into that journey as participants in a multi-part podcast documentary produced by National Public Radio’s Planet Money economic reporting team. 

“While those of us who are close to the daily details can spot a few minor inaccuracies in the reports, overall this was a great opportunity to build awareness for CHS, our Cenex® brand and the refining industry,” says Jim Loving, senior vice president, CHS Refining, Pipelines and Terminals. “The end result included some well-balanced insights into how this business works and the important place petroleum has in our daily lives not only as fuel, but in many things most of us never think about.”

The Planet Money reporting team based its five-part series on tracking NPR’s purchase of 100 barrels of Kansas crude oil from an independent well owner to its ultimate destinations of farms, Cenex convenience stores and other customers served from the CHS Council Bluffs, Iowa, pipeline terminal. Along the way, the team visited the central Kansas Schurr Station pipeline and storage site on the company’s Jayhawk Pipeline and spent a full day at the CHS Refinery at McPherson, Kan. The reporters then tracked the company’s refined products pipeline about 225 miles from the refinery to Council Bluffs. CHS Transportation participated on both ends, with drivers hauling the crude oil from the wellhead and finished product to end customers.

“Planet Money approached CHS and our McPherson-based operations due to our unique position in this industry,” Loving says. “The vast majority of the crude oil we refine originates in Kansas and we’re a farmer-owned cooperative with direct connections to our customers.

“We’re deeply grateful to the dozens of CHS employees who were part of the preparations, hosting and interviews to ensure this project was safe and successful.”

In addition to segments on the crude oil refining journey, the podcast series includes stories on how crude oil pricing works, an interview with an engineer who invented a key fracking process, a look at how petroleum became part of thousands of everyday products and a discussion of what today’s world would be like without oil.

In addition to the five podcasts, portions of the stories will be featured later in September in high-visibility NPR programs including Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. Photos taken by Planet Money during production can be found on its Twitter feed and Facebook page.