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The Oil Hub Where Traders Are Making Millions

Welcome to Cushing, Okla., where the oil is backed up and the traders are making millions
The Oil Hub Where Traders Are Making Millions
Photograph by Daniel Shea for Bloomberg Businessweek

Tugboat pilot Barry Meredith hauls barges of oil as big as football fields for a living. He calls his route “the loop,” which starts with him guiding his boat and two empty 300-foot barges into the Port of Catoosa, outside Tulsa, Okla. Meredith steers toward a cluster of seven storage tanks brimming with crude that’s been trucked in from wells in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Moving 43,000 barrels of oil from the tanks into the barges is a 12-hour process, and one mistake can mean disaster. “You get 4,000 barrels going through that hose every hour, and you let something ass up. … Man, it makes a big mess,” Meredith says in his Florida drawl, his face deeply tanned from 19 years on a tugboat. At dawn the next day he’ll leave for Mobile, Ala. The route of winding rivers is more than 1,300 miles long and takes about a week.