Tar sands

Tar sands

Overview
Bituminous sands, colloquially
Colloquialism
A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation rather than in formal speech, academic writing, or paralinguistics. Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier...

 known as oil sands or tar sands, are a type of unconventional petroleum deposit. The sands contain naturally occurring mixtures of sand
Sand
Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles.The composition of sand is highly variable, depending on the local rock sources and conditions, but the most common constituent of sand in inland continental settings and non-tropical coastal...

, clay
Clay
Clay is a general term including many combinations of one or more clay minerals with traces of metal oxides and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure.- Formation :Clay minerals...

, water, and a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 technically referred to as bitumen (or colloquially "tar" due to its similar appearance, odour, and colour). Oil sands are found in large amounts in many countries throughout the world, but are found in extremely large quantities in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

.

The crude bitumen contained in the Canadian oil sands is described by Canadian authorities as "petroleum that exists in the semi-solid or solid phase in natural deposits.
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Encyclopedia
Bituminous sands, colloquially
Colloquialism
A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation rather than in formal speech, academic writing, or paralinguistics. Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier...

 known as oil sands or tar sands, are a type of unconventional petroleum deposit. The sands contain naturally occurring mixtures of sand
Sand
Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles.The composition of sand is highly variable, depending on the local rock sources and conditions, but the most common constituent of sand in inland continental settings and non-tropical coastal...

, clay
Clay
Clay is a general term including many combinations of one or more clay minerals with traces of metal oxides and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure.- Formation :Clay minerals...

, water, and a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 technically referred to as bitumen (or colloquially "tar" due to its similar appearance, odour, and colour). Oil sands are found in large amounts in many countries throughout the world, but are found in extremely large quantities in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

.

The crude bitumen contained in the Canadian oil sands is described by Canadian authorities as "petroleum that exists in the semi-solid or solid phase in natural deposits. Bitumen is a thick, sticky form of crude oil, so heavy and viscous (thick) that it will not flow unless heated or diluted with lighter hydrocarbons. At room temperature, it is much like cold molasses". Venezuelan authorities often refer to similar types of crude oil as extra-heavy oil, because Venezuelan reservoirs are warmer and the oil is somewhat less viscous, allowing it to flow more easily.

Oil sands reserves have only recently been considered to be part of the world's oil reserves
Oil reserves
The total estimated amount of oil in an oil reservoir, including both producible and non-producible oil, is called oil in place. However, because of reservoir characteristics and limitations in petroleum extraction technologies, only a fraction of this oil can be brought to the surface, and it is...

, as higher oil prices and new technology enable them to be profitably extracted and upgraded to usable products. They are often referred to as unconventional oil or crude bitumen, in order to distinguish the bitumen extracted from oil sands from the free-flowing hydrocarbon mixtures known as crude oil traditionally produced from oil wells.

Making liquid fuels from oil sands requires energy for steam injection and refining. This process generates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

es per barrel of final product as the "production" of conventional oil. If combustion of the final products is included, the so-called "Well to Wheels" approach, oil sands extraction, upgrade and use emits 10 to 45% more greenhouse gases than conventional crude.

History


The exploitation of bituminous deposits and seeps dates back to paleolithic
Paleolithic
The Paleolithic Age, Era or Period, is a prehistoric period of human history distinguished by the development of the most primitive stone tools discovered , and covers roughly 99% of human technological prehistory...

 times. The earliest known use of bitumen was by Neanderthal
Neanderthal
The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

s, some 40,000 years ago. Bitumen has been found adhering to stone tool
Stone tool
A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric, particularly Stone Age cultures that have become extinct...

s used by Neanderthals at sites in Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

. After the arrival of Homo sapiens, humans used bitumen for construction of buildings and water proofing of reed boat
Reed boat
Reed boats and rafts, along with dugout canoes and other rafts, are among the oldest known types of boats. Often used as traditional fishing boats, they are still used in a few places around the world, though they have generally been replaced with planked boats. Reed boats can be distinguished from...

s, among other uses. In ancient Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, the use of bitumen was important in creating Egyptian mummies—in fact, the word mummy
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

 is derived from the Arab word
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 mūmiyyah, which means bitumen.

In ancient times, bitumen was primarily a Mesopotamian commodity used by the Sumerians and Babylonians, although it was also found in the Levant
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

 and Persia. The area along the Tigris
Tigris
The Tigris River is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. The river flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq.-Geography:...

 and Euphrates rivers was littered with hundreds of pure bitumen seepages. The Mesopotamians used the bitumen for waterproofing boats and buildings. In North America, the early European fur traders found Canadian First Nations
First Nations
First Nations is a term that collectively refers to various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis. There are currently over 630 recognised First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. The...

 using bitumen from the vast Athabasca oil sands
Athabasca Oil Sands
The Athabasca oil sands are large deposits of bitumen, or extremely heavy crude oil, located in northeastern Alberta, Canada - roughly centred on the boomtown of Fort McMurray...

 to waterproof their birch bark
Birch bark
Birch bark or birchbark is the bark of several Eurasian and North American birch trees of the genus Betula.The strong and water-resistant cardboard-like bark can be easily cut, bent, and sewn, which made it a valuable building, crafting, and writing material, since pre-historic times...

 canoes. In Europe, they were extensively mined near the European city of Pechelbronn
Merkwiller-Pechelbronn
Merkwiller-Pechelbronn is a commune in the Bas-Rhin department in Alsace in north-eastern France.It is notable as the original home of oil sands mining....

, where the vapor separation process was in use in 1742.

The name tar sands was applied to bituminous sands in the late 19th and early 20th century. People who saw the bituminous sands during this period were familiar with the large amounts of tar residue produced in urban areas as a by-product
By-product
A by-product is a secondary product derived from a manufacturing process or chemical reaction. It is not the primary product or service being produced.A by-product can be useful and marketable or it can be considered waste....

 of the manufacture of coal gas
Coal gas
Coal gas is a flammable gaseous fuel made by the destructive distillation of coal containing a variety of calorific gases including hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and volatile hydrocarbons together with small quantities of non-calorific gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen...

 for urban heating and lighting. The word "tar
Tar
Tar is modified pitch produced primarily from the wood and roots of pine by destructive distillation under pyrolysis. Production and trade in tar was a major contributor in the economies of Northern Europe and Colonial America. Its main use was in preserving wooden vessels against rot. The largest...

" to describe these natural bitumen deposits is really a misnomer, since, chemically speaking, tar is a man-made
Synthetic oil
Synthetic oil is a lubricant consisting of chemical compounds that are artificially made . Synthetic lubricants can be manufactured using chemically modified petroleum components rather than whole crude oil, but can also be synthesized from other raw materials...

 substance produced by the destructive distillation
Destructive distillation
Destructive distillation is the chemical process involving the decomposition of feedstock by heating to a high temperature; the term generally applies to processing of organic material in the absence of air or in the presence of limited amounts of oxygen or other reagents, catalysts, or solvents,...

 of organic material, usually coal
Coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

.

Since then, coal gas has almost completely been replaced by natural gas
Natural gas
Natural gas is a naturally occurring gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, typically with 0–20% higher hydrocarbons . It is found associated with other hydrocarbon fuel, in coal beds, as methane clathrates, and is an important fuel source and a major feedstock for fertilizers.Most natural...

 as a fuel, and coal tar
Coal tar
Coal tar is a brown or black liquid of extremely high viscosity, which smells of naphthalene and aromatic hydrocarbons. Coal tar is among the by-products when coal iscarbonized to make coke or gasified to make coal gas...

 as a material for paving roads
Pavement (material)
Road surface or pavement is the durable surface material laid down on an area intended to sustain vehicular or foot traffic, such as a road or walkway. In the past cobblestones and granite setts were extensively used, but these surfaces have mostly been replaced by asphalt or concrete. Such...

 has been replaced by the petroleum
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 product asphalt
Asphalt
Asphalt or , also known as bitumen, is a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid that is present in most crude petroleums and in some natural deposits, it is a substance classed as a pitch...

. Naturally occurring bitumen is chemically more similar to asphalt than to tar, and the term oil sands (or oilsands) is more commonly used in the producing areas than tar sands because synthetic oil
Synthetic oil
Synthetic oil is a lubricant consisting of chemical compounds that are artificially made . Synthetic lubricants can be manufactured using chemically modified petroleum components rather than whole crude oil, but can also be synthesized from other raw materials...

 is what is manufactured from the bitumen.

Oil sands are now an alternative to conventional crude oil. Oil sands and oil shale
Oil shale
Oil shale, an organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock, contains significant amounts of kerogen from which liquid hydrocarbons called shale oil can be produced...

 have the potential to generate oil for centuries.

Reserves


Many countries in the world have large deposits of oil sands, including the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, and various countries in the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

. However, the world's largest deposits occur in two countries: Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

, each of which have oil sand reserves approximately equal to the world's total reserves of conventional crude oil. As a result of the development of Canadian oil sands reserves, 44% of Canadian oil production in 2007 was from oil sands, with an additional 18% being heavy crude oil
Heavy crude oil
Heavy crude oil or extra heavy crude oil is any type of crude oil which does not flow easily. It is referred to as "heavy" because its density or specific gravity is higher than that of light crude oil. Heavy crude oil has been defined as any liquid petroleum with an API gravity less than 20°.Extra...

, while light oil and condensate had declined to 38% of the total.

Because growth of oil sands production has exceeded declines in conventional crude oil production, Canada has become the largest supplier of oil and refined products to the United States, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Mexico. Venezuelan production is also very large, but due to political problems within its national oil company, estimates of its production data are not reliable. Outside analysts believe Venezuela's oil production has declined in recent years, though there is much debate on whether this decline is depletion-related or not.

In October 2009, the USGS updated the Orinoco oil sands (Venezuela) mean estimated recoverable value to 513 Goilbbl, making it "one of the world's largest recoverable" oil deposits.

Production


Bituminous sands are a major source of unconventional oil. Conventional crude oil is normally extracted from the ground by drilling oil well
Oil well
An oil well is a general term for any boring through the earth's surface that is designed to find and acquire petroleum oil hydrocarbons. Usually some natural gas is produced along with the oil. A well that is designed to produce mainly or only gas may be termed a gas well.-History:The earliest...

s into a petroleum reservoir, allowing oil to flow into them under natural reservoir pressures, although artificial lift
Artificial lift
Artificial lift refers to the use of artificial means to increase the flow of liquids, such as crude oil or water, from a production well. Generally this is achieved by the use of a mechanical device inside the well or by decreasing the weight of the hydrostatic column by injecting gas into the...

 and techniques such as water flooding
Water injection (oil production)
Water injection refers to the method in oil industry where water is injected back into the reservoir, usually to increase pressure and thereby stimulate production. Water injection wells can be found both on- and offshore, to increase oil recovery from an existing reservoir...

 and gas injection are usually required to maintain production as reservoir pressure drops toward the end of a field's life.

Because extra-heavy oil and bitumen flow very slowly, if at all, toward producing wells under normal reservoir conditions, the sands must be extracted by strip mining or the oil made to flow into wells by in situ
In situ
In situ is a Latin phrase which translated literally as 'In position'. It is used in many different contexts.-Aerospace:In the aerospace industry, equipment on board aircraft must be tested in situ, or in place, to confirm everything functions properly as a system. Individually, each piece may...

 techniques, which reduce the viscosity
Viscosity
Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid which is being deformed by either shear or tensile stress. In everyday terms , viscosity is "thickness" or "internal friction". Thus, water is "thin", having a lower viscosity, while honey is "thick", having a higher viscosity...

 by injecting steam
Steam
Steam is the technical term for water vapor, the gaseous phase of water, which is formed when water boils. In common language it is often used to refer to the visible mist of water droplets formed as this water vapor condenses in the presence of cooler air...

, solvent
Solvent
A solvent is a liquid, solid, or gas that dissolves another solid, liquid, or gaseous solute, resulting in a solution that is soluble in a certain volume of solvent at a specified temperature...

s, and/or hot air into the sands. These processes can use more water and require larger amounts of energy than conventional oil extraction, although many conventional oil fields also require large amounts of water and energy to achieve good rates of production.

This is because heavy crude feedstock needs pre-processing before it is fit for conventional refineries. This pre-processing is called 'upgrading', the key components of which are as follows:
  1. removal of water, sand, physical waste, and lighter products
  2. catalytic purification by hydrodemetallisation (HDM), hydrodesulfurization
    Hydrodesulfurization
    Hydrodesulfurization is a catalytic chemical process widely used to remove sulfur from natural gas and from refined petroleum products such as gasoline or petrol, jet fuel, kerosene, diesel fuel, and fuel oils...

     (HDS) and hydrodenitrogenation (HDN)
  3. hydrogenation through carbon rejection or catalytic hydrocracking (HCR)


As carbon rejection is very inefficient and wasteful in most cases, catalytic hydrocracking is preferred in most cases. All these processes take large amounts of energy and water, while emitting more carbon dioxide than conventional oil.

Catalytic purification and hydrocracking are together known as hydroprocessing. The big challenge in hydroprocessing is to deal with the impurities found in heavy crude, as they poison the catalysts over time. Many efforts have been made to deal with this to ensure high activity and long life of a catalyst. Catalyst materials and pore size distributions are key parameters that need to be optimized to deal with these challenge and this varies from place to place, depending on the kind of feedstock present.

At the present time, only Canada has a large-scale commercial oil sands industry, though a small amount of oil from oil sands is produced in Venezuela. Because of increasing oil sands production, Canada has become the largest single supplier of oil and products to the United States. Oil sands now are the source of almost half of Canada's oil production, although due to the 2008 economic downturn work on new projects has been deferred, while Venezuelan production has been declining in recent years. Oil is not produced from oil sands on a significant level in other countries.

Transportation and refining


The heavy crude oil
Heavy crude oil
Heavy crude oil or extra heavy crude oil is any type of crude oil which does not flow easily. It is referred to as "heavy" because its density or specific gravity is higher than that of light crude oil. Heavy crude oil has been defined as any liquid petroleum with an API gravity less than 20°.Extra...

 or crude bitumen extracted from oil sands is a viscous, solid or semisolid form that does not easily flow at normal oil pipeline temperatures, making it difficult to transport to market and expensive to process into gasoline
Gasoline
Gasoline , or petrol , is a toxic, translucent, petroleum-derived liquid that is primarily used as a fuel in internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. Some gasolines also contain...

, diesel fuel, and other products. Despite the difficulty and cost, oil sands are now being mined by energy companies on a vast scale to extract the bitumen, which is then converted into synthetic oil
Synthetic crude
Synthetic crude is the output from a bitumen/extra heavy oil upgrader facility used in connection with oil sand production. It may also refer to shale oil, an output from an oil shale pyrolysis. The properties of the synthetic crude depend on the processes used in the upgrading. Typically, it is...

 (syncrude) by bitumen upgraders, or refined directly into petroleum product
Petroleum product
Petroleum products are useful materials derived from crude oil as it is processed in oil refineries.According to crude oil composition and demand, refineries can produce different shares of petroleum products. The largest share of oil products is used as energy carriers: various grades of fuel...

s by specialized refineries
Oil refinery
An oil refinery or petroleum refinery is an industrial process plant where crude oil is processed and refined into more useful petroleum products, such as gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt base, heating oil, kerosene, and liquefied petroleum gas...

.

Canada




Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 is the largest supplier of crude oil and refined products to the United States, supplying about 20% of total U.S. imports, and exports more oil and products to the U.S. than it consumes itself. In 2006, bitumen production averaged 1.25 Moilbbl/d through 81 oil sands projects, representing 47% of total Canadian petroleum production. This proportion is expected to increase in coming decades as bitumen production grows while conventional oil production declines.

Most of the oil sands of Canada are located in three major deposits in northern Alberta
Alberta
Alberta is a province of Canada. It had an estimated population of 3.7 million in 2010 making it the most populous of Canada's three prairie provinces...

. These are the Athabasca-Wabiskaw oil sands
Athabasca Oil Sands
The Athabasca oil sands are large deposits of bitumen, or extremely heavy crude oil, located in northeastern Alberta, Canada - roughly centred on the boomtown of Fort McMurray...

 of north northeastern Alberta, the Cold Lake
Cold Lake, Alberta
Cold Lake is a city in northeastern Alberta, Canada, named after the lake it is situated near.-Geography:The city is situated in Alberta's "Lakeland" district, 300 km northeast of Edmonton, near the Alberta-Saskatchewan provincial border. The area surrounding the city is sparsely populated,...

 deposits of east northeastern Alberta, and the Peace River
Peace River, Alberta
Peace River is a town in northwestern Alberta, Canada, situated along the banks of the Peace River, at its confluence with the Smoky River, the Heart River and Pat's Creek. It is located northwest of Edmonton, and northeast of Grande Prairie, along Highway 2. The Peace River townsite is nearly ...

 deposits of northwestern Alberta. Between them they cover over 140000 square kilometres (54,054.3 sq mi)—an area larger than England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

—and hold proven reserves of 1.75 Toilbbl of bitumen in place. About 10% of this, or 173 Goilbbl, is estimated by the government of Alberta to be recoverable at current prices, using current technology, which amounts to 97% of Canadian oil reserves and 75% of total North American petroleum reserves. The Cold Lake deposits extend across the Alberta's eastern border into Saskatchewan. In addition to the Alberta oil sands, there are major oil sands deposits on Melville Island
Melville Island, Canada
Melville Island is a vast, uninhabited member of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago with an area of . It is the 33rd largest island in the world and Canada's eighth largest island. Melville Island is shared by the Northwest Territories, which is responsible for the western half of the island, and...

 in the Canadian Arctic islands, which are unlikely to see commercial production in the foreseeable future.

The Alberta oil sand deposits contain at least 85% of the world's reserves of natural bitumen (representing 40% of the combined crude bitumen and extra-heavy crude oil reserves in the world), but are the only bitumen deposits concentrated enough to be economically recoverable for conversion to synthetic crude oil at current prices. The largest bitumen deposit, containing about 80% of the Alberta total, and the only one suitable for surface mining
Surface mining
Surface mining , is a type of mining in which soil and rock overlying the mineral deposit are removed...

, is the Athabasca Oil Sands
Athabasca Oil Sands
The Athabasca oil sands are large deposits of bitumen, or extremely heavy crude oil, located in northeastern Alberta, Canada - roughly centred on the boomtown of Fort McMurray...

 along the Athabasca River
Athabasca River
The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada...

. The mineable area (as defined by the Alberta government) includes 37 townships covering about 3400 square kilometres (1,312.7 sq mi) near Fort McMurray. The smaller Cold Lake
Cold Lake, Alberta
Cold Lake is a city in northeastern Alberta, Canada, named after the lake it is situated near.-Geography:The city is situated in Alberta's "Lakeland" district, 300 km northeast of Edmonton, near the Alberta-Saskatchewan provincial border. The area surrounding the city is sparsely populated,...

 deposits are important because some of the oil is fluid
Fluid
In physics, a fluid is a substance that continually deforms under an applied shear stress. Fluids are a subset of the phases of matter and include liquids, gases, plasmas and, to some extent, plastic solids....

 enough to be extracted by conventional methods. All three Alberta areas are suitable for production using in-situ methods, such as cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) and steam assisted gravity drainage
Steam assisted gravity drainage
Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage is an enhanced oil recovery technology for producing heavy crude oil and bitumen. It is an advanced form of steam stimulation in which a pair of horizontal wells are drilled into the oil reservoir, one a few metres above the other...

 (SAGD).

The Alberta oil sands have been in commercial production since the original Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) mine began operation in 1967. A second mine, operated by the Syncrude
Syncrude
Syncrude Canada Ltd. is the world's largest producer of synthetic crude oil from oil sands and the largest single source producer in Canada. It is located just outside Fort McMurray in the Athabasca Oil Sands, and has a nameplate capacity of of oil, equivalent to about 13% of Canada's consumption...

 consortium, began operation in 1978 and is the biggest mine of any type in the world. The third mine in the Athabasca Oil Sands
Athabasca Oil Sands
The Athabasca oil sands are large deposits of bitumen, or extremely heavy crude oil, located in northeastern Alberta, Canada - roughly centred on the boomtown of Fort McMurray...

, the Albian Sands
Albian Sands
Albian Sands Energy Inc. is the operator of the Muskeg River Mine, an oil sands mining project located north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. It is a joint venture between Shell Canada , Marathon Oil Canada and Chevron Canada . The company's legal headquarters are located in the Shell Tower in...

 consortium of Shell Canada
Shell Canada
Shell Canada Limited is the subsidiary of Dutch-based Royal Dutch Shell and one of Canada's largest integrated oil companies. Exploration and production of oil, natural gas and sulphur is a major part of its business, as well as the marketing of gasoline and related products through the company's...

, Chevron Corporation
Chevron Corporation
Chevron Corporation is an American multinational energy corporation headquartered in San Ramon, California, United States and active in more than 180 countries. It is engaged in every aspect of the oil, gas, and geothermal energy industries, including exploration and production; refining,...

, and Western Oil Sands Inc. [purchased by Marathon Oil Corporation in 2007] began operation in 2003. Petro-Canada
Petro-Canada
Petro-Canada was a crown corporation of Canada in the field of oil and natural gas. It was headquartered in the Petro-Canada Centre in Calgary, Alberta. In August, 2009, Petro-Canada merged with Suncor Energy, a deal in which Suncor investors received approximately 60 per cent ownership of the...

 was also developing a $33 billion Fort Hills Project, in partnership with UTS Energy Corporation and Teck Cominco
Teck Cominco
Teck Resources Limited known as Teck Cominco until late 2008, is a Canadian mining company. It was formed from the amalgamation of Teck and Cominco in 2001.-History:...

, which lost momentum after the 2009 merger of Petro-Canada into Suncor. If approved, upgraders were slated to begin output in 4–5 years.

With the development of new in-situ production techniques such as steam assisted gravity drainage
Steam assisted gravity drainage
Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage is an enhanced oil recovery technology for producing heavy crude oil and bitumen. It is an advanced form of steam stimulation in which a pair of horizontal wells are drilled into the oil reservoir, one a few metres above the other...

, and with the oil price increases since 2003, there were several dozen companies planning nearly 100 oil sands projects in Canada, totaling nearly $100 billion in capital investment. With 2007 crude oil prices significantly in excess of the current average cost of production of $28 per barrel of bitumen, all of these projects appear likely to be profitable. However, bitumen production costs are rising rapidly, with production cost increases of 55% since 2005, due to shortages of labor and materials.

The minority
Minority government
A minority government or a minority cabinet is a cabinet of a parliamentary system formed when a political party or coalition of parties does not have a majority of overall seats in the parliament but is sworn into government to break a Hung Parliament election result. It is also known as a...

 Conservative
Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservative Party of Canada , is a political party in Canada which was formed by the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. It is positioned on the right of the Canadian political spectrum...

 government of Canada
Government of Canada
The Government of Canada, formally Her Majesty's Government, is the system whereby the federation of Canada is administered by a common authority; in Canadian English, the term can mean either the collective set of institutions or specifically the Queen-in-Council...

, pressured to do more on the environment, announced in its 2007 budget that it would phase out some oil sands tax incentives over coming years. The provision allowing accelerated write-off of oil sands investments will be phased out gradually, so projects that had relied on them can proceed. For new projects the provision will be phased out between 2011 and 2015.

With oil prices setting new highs in 2007, tax incentives were no longer necessary to encourage oil sands projects in Canada. In July of that year, Royal Dutch Shell
Royal Dutch Shell
Royal Dutch Shell plc , commonly known as Shell, is a global oil and gas company headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands and with its registered office in London, United Kingdom. It is the fifth-largest company in the world according to a composite measure by Forbes magazine and one of the six...

 released its 2006 annual report and announced that its Canadian oil sands unit made an after tax profit of $21.75 per barrel, nearly double its worldwide profit of $12.41 per barrel on conventional crude oil. A few days later, Shell announced it had filed for regulatory approval to build a $27 billion oil sands refinery in Alberta, one of $38 billion in new oil sands projects announced that week.

Oil sands development in Alberta is strongly opposed by some Canadian and other environmentalists. A pipeline from Alberta to Gulf coast refineries, Keystone XL
Keystone Pipeline
The Keystone Pipeline System is a pipeline system to transport synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Athabasca Oil Sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada to multiple destinations in the United States, which include refineries in Illinois, Cushing oil distribution hub in Oklahoma, and...

 is under consideration.

Venezuela


Located in eastern Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

, north of the Orinoco River, the Orinoco oil belt
Orinoco Belt
The Orinoco Belt is a territory which occupies the southern strip of the eastern Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela. Its local Spanish name is Faja Petrolífera del Orinoco ....

 vies with the Canadian oil sand for largest known accumulation of bitumen in the world. Venezuela prefers to call its oil sands "extra heavy oil", and although the distinction is somewhat academic, the extra heavy crude oil deposit of the Orinoco Belt represent nearly 90% of the known global reserves of extra heavy crude oil, and nearly 45% of the combined crude bitumen and extra-heavy crude oil reserves in the world.

Bitumen and extra-heavy oil are closely related types of petroleum, differing only in the degree by which they have been degraded from the original crude oil by bacteria and erosion. The Venezuelan deposits are less degraded than the Canadian deposits and are at a higher temperature (over 50 degrees Celsius
Celsius
Celsius is a scale and unit of measurement for temperature. It is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius , who developed a similar temperature scale two years before his death...

 versus freezing for northern Canada), making them easier to extract by conventional techniques.

Although Venezuela's extra-heavy oil is easier to produce than Canada's bitumen, it is still too heavy to transport by pipeline or process in normal refineries. Lacking access to first-world capital and technological prowess, Venezuela has not been able to design and build the kind of upgraders and heavy oil refineries that Canada has. In the early 1980s, the state oil company, PDVSA, developed a method of using the extra-heavy oil resources by emulsifying it with water (70% extra-heavy oil, 30% water) to allow it to flow in pipelines
Slurry pipeline
A slurry pipeline is used in mining to transport mineral concentrate from a mineral processing plant near a mine.- Overview :The concentrate of the ore is mixed with water and then pumped over a long distance to a port where it can be shipped for further processing. At the end of the pipeline, the...

. The resulting product, called Orimulsion
Orimulsion
Orimulsion is a registered trademark name for a bitumen-based fuel that was developed for industrial use by Intevep, the Research and Development Affiliate of Petroleos de Venezuela SA , following earlier collaboration on oil emulsions with British Petroleum.-Source of the bitumen:Like coal and...

, can be burned in boilers as a replacement for coal and heavy fuel oil with only minor modifications. Unfortunately, the fuel’s high sulfur content and emission of particulates make it difficult to meet increasingly strict international environmental regulations.

Further development of the Venezuelan resources has been impeded by political unrest. Venezuela is less politically stable than a country such as Canada, and a two-month strike in 2002–2003
Venezuelan general strike of 2002–2003
The Venezuelan general strike of 2002–2003, also known as the oil strike or oil lockout, was an attempt by the Venezuelan opposition to President Hugo Chávez to force a new presidential election. It took place from December 2002 to February 2003, although within this period the effectiveness of the...

 by employees of the state oil company was followed by the dismissal of nearly 20,000 staff. As tensions resolved, strike leaders pointed to the reduction in Venezuela's domestic crude output as an argument that Venezuela's oil production had fallen. However, Venezuela's oil sands crude production, which sometimes wasn't counted in its total, has increased from 125000 oilbbl/d to 500000 oilbbl/d between 2001 and 2006 (Venezuela's figures; IAEA says 300,000 bbl/d).

USA


In the United States, oil sands resources are primarily concentrated in Eastern Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

. With a total of 32 Goilbbl of oil (known and potential) in eight major deposits in the Utah counties of Carbon, Garfield, Grand, Uintah, and Wayne. Currently, oil is not produced from oil sands on a significant commercial level in the United States, although the U.S. imports twenty percent of its oil and refined products from Canada, and over fifty percent of Canadian oil production is from oil sands. In addition to being much smaller than the oil sands deposits in Alberta, Canada, the U.S. oil sands are hydrocarbon wet, whereas the Canadian oil sands are water wet.

As a result of this difference, extraction techniques for the Utah oil sands will be different than those used for the Alberta oil sands. A considerable amount of research has been done in the quest for commercially viable production technology to be employed in the development of the Utah oil sands. A special concern is the relatively arid climate of eastern Utah, as a large amount of water may be required by some processing techniques. Section 526 of the Energy Independence And Security Act prohibits United States government agencies from buying oil produced by processes that produce more greenhouse gas emissions than would traditional petroleum including oil sands.

Other countries


Several other countries hold oil sands deposits which are smaller by orders of magnitude. Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 holds oil sands in two main regions. The Volga-Urals basins (in and around Tatarstan
Tatarstan
The Republic of Tatarstan is a federal subject of Russia located in the Volga Federal District. Its capital is the city of Kazan, which is one of Russia's largest and most prosperous cities. The republic borders with Kirov, Ulyanovsk, Samara, and Orenburg Oblasts, and with the Mari El, Udmurt,...

), which is an important but very mature province in terms of conventional oil, holds large amounts of oil sands in a shallow permian formation. Exploitation has not gone beyond pilot stage yet. Other, less known, deposits are located in eastern Siberia.

In the Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo
The Republic of the Congo , sometimes known locally as Congo-Brazzaville, is a state in Central Africa. It is bordered by Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo , the Angolan exclave province of Cabinda, and the Gulf of Guinea.The region was dominated by...

, the Italian oil company Eni
Eni
Eni S.p.A. is an Italian multinational oil and gas company, present in 70 countries, and currently Italy's largest industrial company with a market capitalization of 87.7 billion euros , as of July 24, 2008...

 have announced in May 2008 a project to develop the small oil sands deposit in order to produce 40000 oilbbl/d in 2014. Reserves are estimated between 0.5 and 2.5 Goilbbl.

In Madagascar
Madagascar
The Republic of Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa...

, Tsimiroro
Tsimiroro
Tsimiroro is the name of a large oil field in the onshore Morondava Basin of Madagascar found south of the Bemolanga ultra heavy oil field and south of the town of Morafenobe.. It is estimated to contain as many as of heavy oil...

 and Bemolanga
Bemolanga
Bemolanga is the name of a large tar sands deposit in the onshore Morondava Basin of Madagascar discovered in the early 1900s but known to locals for centuries. The field is located north of the Tsimiroro heavy oil field and east of the town of Morafenobe .Madagascar Oil, founded by Sam Malin, is...

 are two heavy oil sands deposits with a pilot well already producing small amounts of oil in Tsimiroro. and larger scale exploitation in the early planning phase.

Surface mining


Since Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) started operation of its mine in 1967, bitumen has been extracted on a commercial scale from the Athabasca Oil Sands by surface mining
Surface mining
Surface mining , is a type of mining in which soil and rock overlying the mineral deposit are removed...

. In the Athabasca sands there are very large amounts of bitumen covered by little overburden, making surface mining the most efficient method of extracting it. The overburden consists of water-laden muskeg
Muskeg
Muskeg is an acidic soil type common in Arctic and boreal areas, although it is found in other northern climates as well. Muskeg is approximately synonymous with bogland but muskeg is the standard term in Western Canada and Alaska, while 'bog' is common elsewhere. The term is of Cree origin, maskek...

 (peat bog) over top of clay and barren sand. The oil sands themselves are typically 40 to 60 metres deep, sitting on top of flat limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 rock. Originally, the sands were mined with draglines and bucket-wheel excavator
Bucket-wheel excavator
Bucket-wheel excavators are heavy equipment used in surface mining and mechanical engineering/civil engineering. The primary function of BWEs is to act as a continuous digging machine in large-scale open pit mining operations...

s and moved to the processing plants by conveyor belt
Conveyor belt
A conveyor belt consists of two or more pulleys, with a continuous loop of material - the conveyor belt - that rotates about them. One or both of the pulleys are powered, moving the belt and the material on the belt forward. The powered pulley is called the drive pulley while the unpowered pulley...

s. In recent years companies such as Syncrude
Syncrude
Syncrude Canada Ltd. is the world's largest producer of synthetic crude oil from oil sands and the largest single source producer in Canada. It is located just outside Fort McMurray in the Athabasca Oil Sands, and has a nameplate capacity of of oil, equivalent to about 13% of Canada's consumption...

 and Suncor have switched to much cheaper shovel-and-truck operations using the biggest power shovels (100 or more tons) and dump truck
Dump truck
A dump truck is a truck used for transporting loose material for construction. A typical dump truck is equipped with a hydraulically operated open-box bed hinged at the rear, the front of which can be lifted up to allow the contents to be deposited on the ground behind the truck at the site of...

s (400 tons) in the world. This has held production costs
Production, costs, and pricing
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to industrial organization:Industrial organization – describes the behavior of firms in the marketplace with regard to production, pricing, employment and other decisions...

 to around $27 per barrel of synthetic crude
Synthetic crude
Synthetic crude is the output from a bitumen/extra heavy oil upgrader facility used in connection with oil sand production. It may also refer to shale oil, an output from an oil shale pyrolysis. The properties of the synthetic crude depend on the processes used in the upgrading. Typically, it is...

 oil despite rising energy and labour costs.

After excavation, hot water and caustic soda (NaOH) is added to the sand, and the resulting slurry is piped to the extraction plant where it is agitated and the oil skimmed from the top. Provided that the water chemistry is appropriate to allow bitumen to separate from sand and clay, the combination of hot water and agitation releases bitumen from the oil sand, and allows small air bubbles to attach to the bitumen droplets. The bitumen froth floats to the top of separation vessels, and is further treated to remove residual water and fine solids. Bitumen is much thicker than traditional crude oil, so it must be either mixed with lighter petroleum (either liquid or gas) or chemically split before it can be transported by pipeline for upgrading into synthetic crude oil.

The bitumen is then transported and eventually upgraded into synthetic crude oil. About two tons of oil sands are required to produce one barrel (roughly 1/8 of a ton) of oil. Originally, roughly 75% of the bitumen was recovered from the sand. However, recent enhancements to this method include Tailings
Tailings
Tailings, also called mine dumps, slimes, tails, leach residue, or slickens, are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction of an ore...

 Oil Recovery (TOR) units which recover oil from the tailings
Tailings
Tailings, also called mine dumps, slimes, tails, leach residue, or slickens, are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction of an ore...

, Diluent
Diluent
A diluent is a diluting agent.Certain fluids are too viscous to be pumped easily or too dense to flow from one particular point to the other. This can be problematic, because it might not be economically feasible to transport such fluids in this state.To ease this restricted movement, diluents...

 Recovery Units to recover naptha from the froth, Inclined Plate Settlers (IPS) and disc centrifuges. These allow the extraction plants to recover well over 90% of the bitumen in the sand. After oil extraction, the spent sand and other materials are then returned to the mine, which is eventually reclaimed.

Alberta Taciuk Process
Alberta Taciuk Process
The Alberta Taciuk process is an above-ground dry thermal retorting technology for extracting oil from oil sands, oil shale and other organics-bearing materials, including oil contaminated soils, sludges and wastes...

 technology extracts bitumen from oil sands through a dry-retorting. During this process, oil sand is moved through a rotating drum, cracking
Cracking (chemistry)
In petroleum geology and chemistry, cracking is the process whereby complex organic molecules such as kerogens or heavy hydrocarbons are broken down into simpler molecules such as light hydrocarbons, by the breaking of carbon-carbon bonds in the precursors. The rate of cracking and the end products...

 the bitumen with heat and producing lighter hydrocarbons. Although tested, this technology is not in commercial use yet.

Four oil sands mines are currently in operation and two more (Jackpine and Kearl) are in the initial stages of development. The original Suncor mine opened in 1967, while the Syncrude
Syncrude
Syncrude Canada Ltd. is the world's largest producer of synthetic crude oil from oil sands and the largest single source producer in Canada. It is located just outside Fort McMurray in the Athabasca Oil Sands, and has a nameplate capacity of of oil, equivalent to about 13% of Canada's consumption...

 mine started in 1978, Shell Canada
Shell Canada
Shell Canada Limited is the subsidiary of Dutch-based Royal Dutch Shell and one of Canada's largest integrated oil companies. Exploration and production of oil, natural gas and sulphur is a major part of its business, as well as the marketing of gasoline and related products through the company's...

 opened its Muskeg River mine (Albian Sands)
Albian Sands
Albian Sands Energy Inc. is the operator of the Muskeg River Mine, an oil sands mining project located north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. It is a joint venture between Shell Canada , Marathon Oil Canada and Chevron Canada . The company's legal headquarters are located in the Shell Tower in...

 in 2003 and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd opened its Horizon Project in 2009. New mines under construction or undergoing approval include Shell Canada
Shell Canada
Shell Canada Limited is the subsidiary of Dutch-based Royal Dutch Shell and one of Canada's largest integrated oil companies. Exploration and production of oil, natural gas and sulphur is a major part of its business, as well as the marketing of gasoline and related products through the company's...

's, Imperial Oil
Imperial Oil
Imperial Oil Limited is Canada's largest petroleum company. The company is engaged in the exploration, production and sale of crude oil and natural gas. It is controlled by US based ExxonMobil, which owns 69.6% of its stock...

's Kearl Oil Sands Project
Kearl Oil Sands Project
The Kearl Oil Sands Project is a proposed oil sands mine in the Athabasca Oil Sands region at the Kearl Lake area, about north of Fort McMurray. It is developed in three phases and expected to begin production in late 2012.-Project description:...

, Synenco Energy's, and Suncor's.

It is estimated that approximately 90% of the Alberta oil sands and nearly all of Venezuelan sands are too far below the surface to use open-pit mining
Open-pit mining
Open-pit mining or opencast mining refers to a method of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or borrow....

. Several in-situ techniques have been developed to extract this oil.

Cold flow



In this technique, also known as cold heavy oil production with sand (CHOPS), the oil is simply pumped out of the sands, often using progressive cavity pump
Progressive cavity pump
A progressive cavity pump is a type of positive displacement pump and is also known as a progressing cavity pump, eccentric screw pump or even just cavity pump. It transfers fluid by means of the progress, through the pump, of a sequence of small, fixed shape, discrete cavities, as its rotor is...

s. This only works well in areas where the oil is fluid
Fluid
In physics, a fluid is a substance that continually deforms under an applied shear stress. Fluids are a subset of the phases of matter and include liquids, gases, plasmas and, to some extent, plastic solids....

 enough. It is commonly used in Venezuela (where the extra-heavy oil is at 50 degrees Celsius
Celsius
Celsius is a scale and unit of measurement for temperature. It is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius , who developed a similar temperature scale two years before his death...

), and also in the Wabasca, Alberta Oil Sands, the southern part of the Cold Lake, Alberta
Cold Lake, Alberta
Cold Lake is a city in northeastern Alberta, Canada, named after the lake it is situated near.-Geography:The city is situated in Alberta's "Lakeland" district, 300 km northeast of Edmonton, near the Alberta-Saskatchewan provincial border. The area surrounding the city is sparsely populated,...

 Oil Sands and the Peace River Oil Sands. It has the advantage of being cheap and the disadvantage that it recovers only 5-6% of the oil in place.

Some years ago Canadian oil companies discovered that if they removed the sand
Sand
Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles.The composition of sand is highly variable, depending on the local rock sources and conditions, but the most common constituent of sand in inland continental settings and non-tropical coastal...

 filters from the wells and produced as much sand as possible with the oil, production rates improved remarkably. This technique became known as Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand (CHOPS). Further research disclosed that pumping out sand opened "wormholes" in the sand formation which allowed more oil to reach the wellbore. The advantage of this method is better production rates and recovery (around 10%) and the disadvantage that disposing
Waste management
Waste management is the collection, transport, processing or disposal,managing and monitoring of waste materials. The term usually relates to materials produced by human activity, and the process is generally undertaken to reduce their effect on health, the environment or aesthetics...

 of the produced sand is a problem. A novel way to do this was spreading it on rural roads
Gravel road
A gravel road is a type of unpaved road surfaced with gravel that has been brought to the site from a quarry or stream bed. They are common in less-developed nations, and also in the rural areas of developed nations such as Canada and the United States. In New Zealand, they are known as 'metal roads'...

, which rural governments liked because the oily sand
Tarmac
Tarmac is a type of road surface. Tarmac refers to a material patented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1901...

 reduced dust and the oil companies did their road maintenance for them. However, governments have become concerned about the large volume and composition of oil spread on roads, so in recent years disposing of oily sand in underground salt caverns
Salt mine
A salt mine is a mining operation involved in the extraction of rock salt or halite from evaporite deposits.-Occurrence:Areas known for their salt mines include Kilroot near Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland ; Khewra and Warcha in Pakistan; Tuzla in Bosnia; Wieliczka and Bochnia in Poland A salt mine...

 has become more common.

Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS)


The use of steam
Steam
Steam is the technical term for water vapor, the gaseous phase of water, which is formed when water boils. In common language it is often used to refer to the visible mist of water droplets formed as this water vapor condenses in the presence of cooler air...

 injection to recover heavy oil has been in use in the oil fields of California since the 1950s. The Cyclic Steam Stimulation or "huff-and-puff" method has been in use by Imperial Oil
Imperial Oil
Imperial Oil Limited is Canada's largest petroleum company. The company is engaged in the exploration, production and sale of crude oil and natural gas. It is controlled by US based ExxonMobil, which owns 69.6% of its stock...

 at Cold Lake
Cold Lake, Alberta
Cold Lake is a city in northeastern Alberta, Canada, named after the lake it is situated near.-Geography:The city is situated in Alberta's "Lakeland" district, 300 km northeast of Edmonton, near the Alberta-Saskatchewan provincial border. The area surrounding the city is sparsely populated,...

 since 1985 and is also used by Canadian Natural Resources at Primrose and Wolf Lake and by Shell Canada at Peace River. In this method, the well is put through cycles of steam injection, soak, and oil production. First, steam is injected into a well at a temperature of 300 to 340 degrees Celsius
Celsius
Celsius is a scale and unit of measurement for temperature. It is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius , who developed a similar temperature scale two years before his death...

 for a period of weeks to months; then, the well is allowed to sit for days to weeks to allow heat to soak into the formation; and, later, the hot oil is pumped out of the well for a period of weeks or months. Once the production rate falls off, the well is put through another cycle of injection, soak and production. This process is repeated until the cost of injecting steam becomes higher than the money made from producing oil. The CSS method has the advantage that recovery factors are around 20 to 25% and the disadvantage that the cost to inject steam is high.

Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD)



Steam assisted gravity drainage
Steam assisted gravity drainage
Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage is an enhanced oil recovery technology for producing heavy crude oil and bitumen. It is an advanced form of steam stimulation in which a pair of horizontal wells are drilled into the oil reservoir, one a few metres above the other...

 was developed in the 1980s by the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority
Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority
The Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority was an Alberta crown corporation to promote the development and use of new technology for oil sands and heavy crude oil production, and enhanced recovery of conventional crude oil. It was funded by the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund...

 and fortuitously coincided with improvements in directional drilling
Directional drilling
Directional drilling is the practice of drilling non-vertical wells. It can be broken down into three main groups: Oilfield Directional Drilling, Utility Installation Directional Drilling Directional drilling (or slant drilling) is the practice of drilling non-vertical wells. It can be broken down...

 technology that made it quick and inexpensive to do by the mid 1990s. In SAGD, two horizontal wells are drilled in the oil sands, one at the bottom of the formation and another about 5 metres above it. These wells are typically drilled
Drilling rig
A drilling rig is a machine which creates holes or shafts in the ground. Drilling rigs can be massive structures housing equipment used to drill water wells, oil wells, or natural gas extraction wells, or they can be small enough to be moved manually by one person...

 in groups off central pads and can extend for miles in all directions. In each well pair, steam is injected into the upper well, the heat melts the bitumen, which allows it to flow into the lower well, where it is pumped to the surface.

SAGD has proved to be a major breakthrough
Disruptive technology
A disruptive technology or disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network , displacing an earlier technology there...

 in production technology since it is cheaper than CSS, allows very high oil production rates, and recovers up to 60% of the oil in place. Because of its very favorable economics
Production, costs, and pricing
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to industrial organization:Industrial organization – describes the behavior of firms in the marketplace with regard to production, pricing, employment and other decisions...

 and applicability to a vast area of oil sands, this method alone quadrupled North American oil reserves
Oil reserves
The total estimated amount of oil in an oil reservoir, including both producible and non-producible oil, is called oil in place. However, because of reservoir characteristics and limitations in petroleum extraction technologies, only a fraction of this oil can be brought to the surface, and it is...

 and allowed Canada to move to second place in world oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. Most major Canadian oil companies now have SAGD projects in production or under construction in Alberta's oil sands areas and in Wyoming. Examples include Japan Canada Oil Sands Ltd's (JACOS)
JACOS
Japan Canada Oil Sands Limited is an oil sands extraction company. It is the operator of the Hangingstone oil sands project. JACOS is a subsidiary of JAPEX , which owns 86% share in the company...

 project, Suncor’s Firebag project, Nexen
Nexen
Nexen Inc. is an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.-History:Nexen started in 1969 under the name "Canadian Occidental Petroleum Ltd.", aka CanOxy, and was 80% owned by Occidental Petroleum, a Los Angeles-based oil company...

's Long Lake project, Suncor's (formerly Petro-Canada
Petro-Canada
Petro-Canada was a crown corporation of Canada in the field of oil and natural gas. It was headquartered in the Petro-Canada Centre in Calgary, Alberta. In August, 2009, Petro-Canada merged with Suncor Energy, a deal in which Suncor investors received approximately 60 per cent ownership of the...

's) MacKay River project, Husky Energy
Husky Energy
Husky Energy Inc. is a large integrated Canadian energy company based in Calgary, Alberta. Husky's foundation is in Western Canada, where it has extensive conventional oil and natural gas assets, significant heavy oil production and a range of midstream and downstream operations, including...

's Tucker Lake and Sunrise projects, Shell Canada
Shell Canada
Shell Canada Limited is the subsidiary of Dutch-based Royal Dutch Shell and one of Canada's largest integrated oil companies. Exploration and production of oil, natural gas and sulphur is a major part of its business, as well as the marketing of gasoline and related products through the company's...

's Peace River project, Cenovus Energy
Cenovus Energy
Cenovus Energy is an integrated oil company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta.Cenovus was formed on December 1, 2009 when Encana Corporation split into two distinct companies: one an integrated oil company , the other a pure play natural gas company . The split left Cenovus with the assets formerly...

's Foster Creek and Christina Lake developments, ConocoPhillips
ConocoPhillips
ConocoPhillips Company is an American multinational energy corporation with its headquarters located in the Energy Corridor district of Houston, Texas in the United States...

' Surmont project, Devon Canada's
Devon Energy
Devon Energy Corporation , is among the largest U.S.-based independent natural gas and oil producers. Based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the company's operations are focused on North American onshore exploration and production...

 Jackfish project, and Derek Oil & Gas's LAK Ranch project. Alberta's OSUM Corp has combined proven underground mining technology with SAGD to enable higher recovery rates by running wells underground from within the oil sands deposit, thus also reducing energy requirements compared to traditional SAGD. This particular technology application is in its testing phase.

Vapor Extraction Process (VAPEX)


VAPEX is similar to SAGD but instead of steam, hydrocarbon solvents are injected into the upper well to dilute the bitumen and allow it to flow into the lower well. It has the advantage of much better energy efficiency over steam injection, and it does some partial upgrading of bitumen to oil right in the formation. It is very new, but the process has attracted much attention from oil companies, who are beginning to experiment with it.

The above three methods are not mutually exclusive. It is becoming common for wells to be put through one CSS injection-soak-production cycle to condition the formation prior to going to SAGD production, and companies are experimenting with combining VAPEX with SAGD to improve recovery rates and lower energy costs.

Toe to Heel Air Injection (THAI)


This is a very new and experimental method that combines a vertical air injection well with a horizontal production well. The process ignites oil in the reservoir and creates a vertical wall of fire moving from the "toe" of the horizontal well toward the "heel", which burns the heavier oil components and upgrades some of the heavy bitumen into lighter oil right in the formation. Historically fireflood projects have not worked out well because of difficulty in controlling the flame front and a propensity to set the producing wells on fire. However, some oil companies feel the THAI method will be more controllable and practical, and have the advantage of not requiring energy to create steam.

Advocates of this method of extraction state that it uses less freshwater, produces 50% less greenhouse gases, and has a smaller footprint than other production techniques.

Petrobank Energy and Resources Ltd.
Petrobank Energy and Resources
Petrobank is an oil exploration, development, and production company based in Calgary, Canada. It operates through 4 units/subsidiaries, PetroBakken Energy in Canada, Petrominerales Ltd in Peru and Colombia, HBU in the heavy...

 has reported encouraging results from their test wells in Alberta, with production rates of up to 400 oilbbl/d per well, and the oil upgraded from 8 to 12 API degree
API gravity
The American Petroleum Institute gravity, or API gravity, is a measure of how heavy or light a petroleum liquid is compared to water. If its API gravity is greater than 10, it is lighter and floats on water; if less than 10, it is heavier and sinks...

s.
The company hopes to get a further 7-degree upgrade from its CAPRI (controlled atmospheric pressure resin infusion) system, which pulls the oil through a catalyst lining the lower pipe.

Combustion Overhead Gravity Drainage (COGD)


This is an experimental method that employs a number of vertical air injection wells above a horizontal production well located at the base of the bitumen pay zone. An initial Steam Cycle similar to CSS is used to prepare the bitumen for ignition and mobility. Following that cycle, air is injected into the vertical wells, igniting the upper bitumen and mobilizing (through heating) the lower bitumen to flow into the production well. It is expected that COGD will result in water savings of 80% compared to SAGD.

Environmental issues


Like all petroleum production, oil sands operations can have an adverse effect on the environment. Oil sands projects can potentially affect: the land when the bitumen is initially mined and with large deposits of toxic chemicals; the water during the separation process and through the drainage of rivers; and the air due to the release of carbon dioxide and other emissions. Additional indirect environmental effects are that the petroleum products produced are mostly burned, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Heavy metals such as vanadium
Vanadium
Vanadium is a chemical element with the symbol V and atomic number 23. It is a hard, silvery gray, ductile and malleable transition metal. The formation of an oxide layer stabilizes the metal against oxidation. The element is found only in chemically combined form in nature...

, nickel
Nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

, lead
Lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

, cobalt
Cobalt
Cobalt is a chemical element with symbol Co and atomic number 27. It is found naturally only in chemically combined form. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal....

, mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

, chromium
Chromium
Chromium is a chemical element which has the symbol Cr and atomic number 24. It is the first element in Group 6. It is a steely-gray, lustrous, hard metal that takes a high polish and has a high melting point. It is also odorless, tasteless, and malleable...

, cadmium
Cadmium
Cadmium is a chemical element with the symbol Cd and atomic number 48. This soft, bluish-white metal is chemically similar to the two other stable metals in group 12, zinc and mercury. Similar to zinc, it prefers oxidation state +2 in most of its compounds and similar to mercury it shows a low...

, arsenic
Arsenic
Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As, atomic number 33 and relative atomic mass 74.92. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in conjunction with sulfur and metals, and also as a pure elemental crystal. It was first documented by Albertus Magnus in 1250.Arsenic is a metalloid...

, selenium
Selenium
Selenium is a chemical element with atomic number 34, chemical symbol Se, and an atomic mass of 78.96. It is a nonmetal, whose properties are intermediate between those of adjacent chalcogen elements sulfur and tellurium...

, copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, manganese
Manganese
Manganese is a chemical element, designated by the symbol Mn. It has the atomic number 25. It is found as a free element in nature , and in many minerals...

, iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

 and zinc
Zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

 are present in oil sands.

Air


The Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) monitors the air in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo continuously. This is done through a variety of air, land and human monitoring programs. The information collected is openly shared with stakeholders and the public.

Since 1995, monitoring in the oil sands region shows improved or no change in long term air quality for the five key air quality pollutants — carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and sulfur dioxide — used to calculate the Air Quality Index. Air monitoring has shown significant increases in exceedances of hydrogen sulfide both in the Fort McMurray area and near the oil sands upgraders.

Hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical compound with the formula . It is a colorless, very poisonous, flammable gas with the characteristic foul odor of expired eggs perceptible at concentrations as low as 0.00047 parts per million...

 is the chemical compound
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

 with the formula
Chemical formula
A chemical formula or molecular formula is a way of expressing information about the atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound....

 . This colorless, toxic and flammable gas
Gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

 is responsible for the foul odour of rotten eggs
Egg (biology)
An egg is an organic vessel in which an embryo first begins to develop. In most birds, reptiles, insects, molluscs, fish, and monotremes, an egg is the zygote, resulting from fertilization of the ovum, which is expelled from the body and permitted to develop outside the body until the developing...

. Hydrogen sulfide gas occurs naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas, volcanic gases and hot springs. It also can result from bacterial breakdown of organic matter and be produced by human and animal wastes.

In 2007, the Alberta government issued an Environmental Protection Order to Suncor Energy Inc. The order comes in response to numerous occasions when ground level concentration (GLC) for exceeded acceptable standards. Environmental Protection Orders are issued under the authority of Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Alberta Environment can issue Environmental Protection Orders to remedy environmental problems where there has been a release of a substance that has caused or may cause an adverse effect to the environment.

Land


A large part of oil sands mining operations involves clearing trees and brush from a site and removing the "overburden" — the topsoil, muskeg, sand, clay and gravel — that sits atop the oil sands deposit. Approximately two tons of oil sands are needed to produce one barrel of oil (roughly 1/8 of a ton). As a condition of licensing, projects are required to implement a reclamation
Mine reclamation
Mine reclamation is the process of creating useful landscapes that meet a variety of goals, typically creating productive ecosystems from mined land...

 plan. The mining industry asserts that the boreal forest will eventually colonize the reclaimed lands, but that their operations are massive and work on long-term timeframes. As of 2006/2007 (the most recent data available), about 420 km² (162.2 sq mi) of land in the oil sands region have been disturbed, and 65 km² (25.1 sq mi) of that land is under reclamation. In March 2008, Alberta issued the first-ever oil sands land reclamation certificate to Syncrude Canada Ltd. for the 1.04 km² (0.401546244936236 sq mi) parcel of land known as Gateway Hill approximately 35 km (21.7 mi) north of Fort McMurray. Several reclamation certificate applications for oil sands projects are expected within the next 10 years.

Water


Between 2 to 4.5 volume units of water are used to produce each volume unit of synthetic crude oil (SCO) in an ex-situ mining operation. Despite recycling, almost all of it ends up in tailings ponds, which, as of 2007, covered an area of approximately 50 km² (19.3 sq mi). In SAGD operations, 90 to 95 percent of the water is recycled and only about 0.2 volume units of water is used per volume unit of bitumen produced.
Large amounts of water are used for oil sands operations – Greenpeace gives the number as 349 million cubic metres per year, twice the amount of water used by the city of Calgary. It is unclear if this is the amount of water they are licensed to remove from the Athabasca or the actual use and how up to date the statistic is. The Athabasca River
Athabasca River
The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada...

 is also much larger than Bow
Bow River
The Bow River is a river in the Canadian province of Alberta. It is a tributary of the South Saskatchewan River, and is considered the headwater of the Nelson River....

 and Elbow
Elbow River
The Elbow River is a river located in southern Alberta, Canada. It flows from the Canadian Rockies to the city of Calgary, where it merges into the Bow River....

 rivers that flow through Calgary.

The Athabasca River is the ninth longest river in Canada running 1231 km (764.9 mi) from the Athabasca Glacier in west-central Alberta to Lake Athabasca in northeastern Alberta. The average annual flow just downstream of Fort McMurray is 633 cubic metres per second with its highest daily average measuring 1200 cubic metres per second.

Current water license allocations totals about 1.8 percent of the Athabasca river flow. Actual use in 2006 was about 0.4 percent. In addition, the Alberta government sets strict limits on how much water oil sands companies can remove from the Athabasca River. According to the Water Management Framework for the Lower Athabasca River, during periods of low river flow water consumption from the Athabasca River is limited to 1.3 per cent of annual average flow. The province of Alberta is also looking into cooperative withdrawal agreements between oil sands operators.

In October 2009, Suncor Energy
Suncor Energy
Suncor Energy Inc. is a Canadian integrated energy company based in Calgary, Alberta. It specializes in production of synthetic crude from oil sands...

 announced it was seeking government approval for a new process to recover tailings
Tailings
Tailings, also called mine dumps, slimes, tails, leach residue, or slickens, are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction of an ore...

 called Tailings Reduction Operations (TRO), which accelerates the settling
Settling
Settling is the process by which particulates settle to the bottom of a liquid and form a sediment. Particles that experience a force, either due to gravity or due to centrifugal motion will tend to move in a uniform manner in the direction exerted by that force...

 of fine clay, sand, water, and residual bitumen in pond
Pond
A pond is a body of standing water, either natural or man-made, that is usually smaller than a lake. A wide variety of man-made bodies of water are classified as ponds, including water gardens, water features and koi ponds; all designed for aesthetic ornamentation as landscape or architectural...

s after oil sands extraction. The technology involves dredging mature tailings from a pond bottom, mixing the suspension
Suspension (chemistry)
In chemistry, a suspension is a heterogeneous fluid containing solid particles that are sufficiently large for sedimentation. Usually they must be larger than 1 micrometer. The internal phase is dispersed throughout the external phase through mechanical agitation, with the use of certain...

 with a polymer flocculent, and spreading the sludge-like mixture over a “beach
Beach
A beach is a geological landform along the shoreline of an ocean, sea, lake or river. It usually consists of loose particles which are often composed of rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles or cobblestones...

” with a shallow grade. According to the company, the process could reduce the time for water reclamation
Water reclamation
Water reclamation is a process by which wastewater from homes and businesses is cleaned using biological and chemical treatment so that the water can be returned to the environment safely to augment the natural systems from which it came...

  from tailings to weeks rather than years, with the recovered water being recycled
Water conservation
Water conservation refers to reducing the usage of water and recycling of waste water for different purposes such as cleaning, manufacturing, and agricultural irrigation.- Water conservation :Water conservation can be defined as:...

 into the oil sands plant. In addition to reducing the number of tailing ponds, Suncor claims TRO could reduce the time to reclaim a tailing pond from 40 years at present to 7–10 years, with land rehabilitation
Land rehabilitation
Land rehabilitation is the process of returning the land in a given area to some degree of its former state, after some process has resulted in its damage...

 continuously following 7 to 10 years behind the mining operations.

In December 2010, the Oil Sands Advisory Panel, commissioned by former environment minister Jim Prentice, found that the system in place for monitoring water quality in the region, including work by the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program, the Alberta Water Research Institute, the Cumulative Environmental Management Association and others, was piecemeal and should become more comprehensive and coordinated.

A major hindrance to the monitoring of oil sands produced waters has been the lack of identification of individual compounds present. By better understanding the nature of the highly complex mixture
Unresolved Complex Mixture
Unresolved Complex Mixture is a feature frequently observed in gas chromatographic data of crude oils and extracts from organisms exposed to oil. One reason why it is important to study the nature of UCMs is that some have been shown to contain toxic components,Donkin, P., Smith, E. L. & Rowland,...

 of compounds, including naphthenic acid
Naphthenic acid
Naphthenic acid is the name for an unspecific mixture of several cyclopentyl and cyclohexyl carboxylic acids with molecular weight of 120 to well over 700 atomic mass units. The main fraction are carboxylic acids with a carbon backbone of 9 to 20 carbons. The naphtha fraction of the crude oil...

s, it may be possible to monitor rivers for leachate
Leachate
Leachate is any liquid that, in passing through matter, extracts solutes, suspended solids or any other component of the material through which it has passed....

 and also to remove toxic components. Such identification of individual acids has for many years proved to be impossible but a recent breakthrough in analysis has begun to reveal what is in the oil sands produced waters.

Climate change


The production of bitumen and synthetic crude oil emits more greenhouse gas (GHG) than the production of conventional crude oil, and has been identified as the largest contributor to GHG emissions growth in Canada, as it accounts for 40 million tons of emissions per year. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is the voice of the upstream Canadian oil and natural gas industry. The members of CAPP produce 90% of the petroleum production in Canada.-Background:...

, Environment Canada
Environment Canada
Environment Canada , legally incorporated as the Department of the Environment under the Department of the Environment Act Environment Canada (EC) (French: Environnement Canada), legally incorporated as the Department of the Environment under the Department of the Environment Act Environment...

 claims the oil sands make up 5% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, or 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It predicts the oil sands will grow to make up 8% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 2015. Environmentalists argue that the availability of more oil for the world made possible by oil sands production in itself raises global emissions of CO2.

While the emissions per barrel of bitumen produced decreased 26% over the decade 1992–2002, total emissions were expected to increase due to higher production levels. As of 2006, to produce one barrel of oil from the oil sands released almost 75 kg (165.3 lb) of GHG with total emissions estimated to be 67 Mt per year by 2015.

In January 2008, the Alberta government released Alberta’s 2008 Climate Change Strategy. Alberta’s emissions are projected to grow to 400 megatonnes (Mt) by 2050, largely due to forecast growth in the oil sands sector. The new plan aims to cut the projected 400 Mt in half by 2050, with a 139 Mt reduction coming from carbon capture and storage — the bulk of those reductions (100 Mt) will come from activities related to oil sands production.

A federal court of Canada ruling on March 6, 2008, found the approval of Imperial Oil
Imperial Oil
Imperial Oil Limited is Canada's largest petroleum company. The company is engaged in the exploration, production and sale of crude oil and natural gas. It is controlled by US based ExxonMobil, which owns 69.6% of its stock...

 Ltd.'s $8-billion oil sands mine insufficient on climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 and greenhouse gas emissions. Proposals in the regulatory system at that date included mines by Total SA of France, by Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell
Royal Dutch Shell
Royal Dutch Shell plc , commonly known as Shell, is a global oil and gas company headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands and with its registered office in London, United Kingdom. It is the fifth-largest company in the world according to a composite measure by Forbes magazine and one of the six...

 and by Petro-Canada
Petro-Canada
Petro-Canada was a crown corporation of Canada in the field of oil and natural gas. It was headquartered in the Petro-Canada Centre in Calgary, Alberta. In August, 2009, Petro-Canada merged with Suncor Energy, a deal in which Suncor investors received approximately 60 per cent ownership of the...

, as well as steam-injection projects by EnCana of Calgary.

A 2009 study by CERA estimated that production from Canada's oil sands emits "about 5 percent to 15 percent more carbon dioxide, over the
"well-to-wheels" lifetime analysis of the fuel, than average crude oil." Author and investigative journalist David Strahan that same year stated that IEA figures show that carbon dioxide emissions from the tar sands are 20% higher than average emissions from oil
With coal's CO2 emissions about one-third higher than conventional oil emissions, that makes the oil sands' emissions equal to about 90% of the CO2 released from coal.

On September 21, 2010, a study by "IHS (Information Handling Services) Cambridge Energy Research Associates (IHS CERA)" found that fuels made from Canadian oil sands "result in significantly lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than many commonly cited estimates... Oil sands products imported to the United States result in GHG emissions that are, on average, six percent higher than the average crude consumed in the country. This level places oil sands on par with other sources of U.S. crude imports, including crudes from Nigeria, Venezuela and some domestically produced oil, the report finds."

Carbon dioxide sequestration


To offset greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands and elsewhere in Alberta, sequestering carbon dioxide emissions inside depleted oil and gas reservoirs has been proposed. This technology is inherited from Enhanced oil recovery
Enhanced oil recovery
Enhanced Oil Recovery is a generic term for techniques for increasing the amount of crude oil that can be extracted from an oil field...

 methods, which have been in use for several decades. In July 2008, the Alberta government announced a C$2 billion fund to support sequestration projects in Alberta power plants (largely coal) and oil sands extraction and upgrading facilities.

Aquatic life deformities


There is conflicting research on the effects of the oil sands on aquatic life in the Canadian oil sands development. In 2007, Environment Canada completed a study that shows high deformity rates in fish embryos exposed to the oil sands. David W. Schindler, a limnologist from the University of Alberta
University of Alberta
The University of Alberta is a public research university located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Founded in 1908 by Alexander Cameron Rutherford, the first premier of Alberta and Henry Marshall Tory, its first president, it is widely recognized as one of the best universities in Canada...

, co-authored a study on Alberta's oil sands' contribution of aromatic
Aromaticity
In organic chemistry, Aromaticity is a chemical property in which a conjugated ring of unsaturated bonds, lone pairs, or empty orbitals exhibit a stabilization stronger than would be expected by the stabilization of conjugation alone. The earliest use of the term was in an article by August...

 polycyclic compound
Polycyclic compound
In organic chemistry, a polycyclic compound is a cyclic compound with more than one hydrocarbon loop or ring structures . In general, the term includes all polycyclic aromatic compounds, including the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the heterocyclic aromatic compounds containing sulfur,...

s, some of which are known carcinogens, to the Athabasca River and its tributaries. Scientists, local doctors, and residents supported a letter sent to the Prime Minister in September 2010 calling for an independent study of Lake Athabasca (which is downstream of the oil sands) to be initiated due to the rise of deformities and tumors found in fish caught there. The bulk of the research that defends the oil sands development is done by the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, RAMP. RAMP studies show that deformity rates are normal compared to historical data and the deformity rates in rivers upstream of the oil sands. It should be noted that RAMP is affiliated with the oil industry and its research data is submitted to environmental government agencies but unlike academia where peer review happens on a per study basis, RAMP does a peer review of the entire organization only once every five years.

Concerns of environmentalists


The environmental impact caused by oil sand extraction is frequently criticized by environmental groups such as Greenpeace
Greenpeace
Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over forty countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, The Netherlands...

. Greenpeace is concerned with the social and health costs, pollution of the Athabasca River, air toxins, loss of farmland, removal of Boreal Forest and the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil sands extraction is generally held to be more environmentally damaging than conventional crude oil — carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 "well-to-pump" emissions, for example, are estimated to be about 1.3-1.7 times that of conventional crude.

Public health impacts


Concerns have been raised by a number of groups concerning the negative impacts that the tar sands have on public health, including higher than normal rates of cancer among residents of Fort Chipewyan . In August, 2011, the Alberta government initiated a provincial health study of the link between the higher rates of cancer and the tar sands. It has also been suggested that other wildlife has been negatively affected by the oil sands; for instance, moose were found in a 2006 study to have as high as 453 times the acceptable levels of arsenic in their systems, though later studies lowered this to 17 to 33 times the acceptable level (still causing a danger for human consumption).

Input energy


Approximately 1.0 – 1.25 gigajoule of energy is needed to extract a barrel of bitumen and upgrade it to synthetic crude. As of 2006, most of this is produced by burning natural gas.
Since a barrel of oil equivalent
Barrel of oil equivalent
The barrel of oil equivalent is a unit of energy based on the approximate energy released by burning one barrel of crude oil. The US Internal Revenue Service defines it as equal to 5.8 × 106 BTU...

 is about 6.117 gigajoules, this extracts about 5 or 6 times as much energy as is consumed. Energy efficiency is expected to improve to 0.7 gigajoules of energy per barrel by 2015, giving an EROEI
EROEI
In physics, energy economics and ecological energetics, energy returned on energy invested ; or energy return on investment , is the ratio of the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource...

 of about 9. However, since natural gas production in Alberta peaked in 2001 and has been static ever since, it is likely oil sands requirements will be met by cutting back natural gas exports to the U.S.

Alternatives to natural gas exist and are available in the oil sands area. Bitumen can itself be used as the fuel, consuming about 30-35% of the raw bitumen per produced unit of synthetic crude. Nexen's Long Lake project will use a proprietary deasphalting technology to upgrade the bitumen, using asphaltene residue fed to a gasifier
Gasification
Gasification is a process that converts organic or fossil based carbonaceous materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. This is achieved by reacting the material at high temperatures , without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam...

 whose syngas
Syngas
Syngas is the name given to a gas mixture that contains varying amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Examples of production methods include steam reforming of natural gas or liquid hydrocarbons to produce hydrogen, the gasification of coal, biomass, and in some types of waste-to-energy...

 will be used by a cogeneration
Cogeneration
Cogeneration is the use of a heat engine or a power station to simultaneously generate both electricity and useful heat....

 turbine and a hydrogen producing unit, providing all the energy needs of the project: steam, hydrogen, and electricity. Thus, it will produce syncrude without consuming natural gas, but the capital cost is very high.

Coal is widely available in Alberta and is inexpensive, but produces large amounts of greenhouse gases. Nuclear power is another option which has been proposed, but did not appear to be economic as of 2005. In early 2007 the Canadian House of Commons
Canadian House of Commons
The House of Commons of Canada is a component of the Parliament of Canada, along with the Sovereign and the Senate. The House of Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 308 members known as Members of Parliament...

 Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology considered that the use of nuclear power to process oil sands could reduce CO2 emissions and help Canada meet its Kyoto commitments, as it would require nearly 12 GW to meet production growth to 2015, but the implications of building reactors in northern Alberta were not yet well understood.
Energy Alberta Corporation
Energy Alberta Corporation
Energy Alberta Corporation was created in 2005 to provide nuclear power to the energy-intensive development of the oil sands resources in northern Alberta. The company was founded by Hank Swartout, CEO of Precision Drilling Corporation, and Wayne Henuset, co-owner of Willow Park Wines and Spirits...

 announced in 2007 that they had applied for a license to build a new nuclear plant at Lac Cardinal, 30 km west of the town of Peace River
Peace River, Alberta
Peace River is a town in northwestern Alberta, Canada, situated along the banks of the Peace River, at its confluence with the Smoky River, the Heart River and Pat's Creek. It is located northwest of Edmonton, and northeast of Grande Prairie, along Highway 2. The Peace River townsite is nearly ...

. The application would see an initial twin AECL
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited or AECL is a Canadian federal Crown corporation and Canada's largest nuclear science and technology laboratory...

 Advanced CANDU Reactor ACR-1000 plant go online in 2017, producing 2.2 GW (electric). At 6.117 GJ/barrel, this is equivalent to conserving 31074 oilbbl/d. On November 30, 2007 Bruce Power
Bruce Power
Bruce Power Limited Partnership is a Canadian business partnership composed of several corporations. It exists as a partnership between Cameco Corporation , TransCanada Corporation , BPC Generation Infrastructure Trust , the Power Workers Union and The Society of Energy Professionals...

, which operates eight CANDU reactors in Ontario, signed a letter of intent to acquire Energy Alberta and take over the project.

See also


  • Beaver river sandstone
    Beaver river sandstone
    Beaver River sandstone is a rock material locally found in northern Alberta, Canada, that was extensively used by First Nations people in prehistoric times to make tools with a sharp edge....

  • Bituminous rocks
    Bituminous rocks
    Organic-rich sedimentary rocks are a specific type of sedimentary rock that contains significant amounts of organic carbon. The most common types include coal, lignite, oil shale, or black shale...

  • History of the petroleum industry in Canada (oil sands and heavy oil)
    History of the petroleum industry in Canada (oil sands and heavy oil)
    Canada's oil sands and heavy oil resources are among the world's great petroleum deposits. They include the vast oil sands of northern Alberta, and the heavy oil reservoirs that surround the small city of Lloydminster, which sits on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan...

  • Oil megaprojects
    Oil megaprojects
    -Megaprojects predicted for individual years:-New supply addition per country from oil megaprojects:Volumes shown are in thousand barrels per day. The summary table below is produced by a Perl script parsing each annual table...

  • Petroleum industry
    Petroleum industry
    The petroleum industry includes the global processes of exploration, extraction, refining, transporting , and marketing petroleum products. The largest volume products of the industry are fuel oil and gasoline...

  • Project Oilsand
    Project Oilsand
    Project Oilsand, also known as Project Oilsands, and originally known as Project Cauldron, was a 1958 proposal to exploit the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta via the underground detonation of a nuclear bomb; hypothetically, the heat and pressure created by an underground detonation would boil the...

  • Oil shale
    Oil shale
    Oil shale, an organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock, contains significant amounts of kerogen from which liquid hydrocarbons called shale oil can be produced...

  • RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs)
    RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs)
    R.A.V.E.N. Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs is a charitable organization that provides financial resources to assist Aboriginal Nations within Canada in lawfully forcing industrial development to be reconciled with their traditional ways of life, and in a manner that addresses...

  • Steam injection (oil industry)
    Steam injection (oil industry)
    Steam injection is an increasingly common method of extracting heavy oil. It is considered an enhanced oil recovery method and is the main type of thermal stimulation of oil reservoirs. There are several different forms of the technology, with the two main ones being Cyclic Steam Stimulation and...

  • World energy resources and consumption
    World energy resources and consumption
    ]World energy consumption in 2010: over 5% growthEnergy markets have combined crisis recovery and strong industry dynamism. Energy consumption in the G20 soared by more than 5% in 2010, after the slight decrease of 2009. This strong increase is the result of two converging trends...

  • Thermal depolymerization
    Thermal depolymerization
    Thermal depolymerization is a depolymerization process using hydrous pyrolysis for the reduction of complex organic materials into light crude oil. It mimics the natural geological processes thought to be involved in the production of fossil fuels...

  • Utah Oil Sands
    Utah Oil Sands
    In the United States a large supply of oil sands are found in Eastern Utah. These deposits of bitumen or heavy crude oil have the ability to generate about 12 to 19 billion barrels from a number of prominent sites.- History :...


External links