What are the Athabasca Oil Sands?
The Athabasca Oil Sands Deposit is 3400 square kms in size. It contains an estimated 174 billion recoverable barrels of bitumen. This puts Canada second only to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves. More than 300 billion barrels, or just over 12% of these reserves are potentially recoverable based on today’s technology.
The oil sands were deposited 110 million years ago. Back when dinosaurs were still roaming the earth. The leading theory of how the oil sands were formed is that huge volumes of oil migrated eastward and upward (pressure of the rising mountains) through more than 100 kilometers of rock until they reached and saturated large areas of sandstones at or near the surface. Most of northeastern Alberta was covered by a shallow sea (Albion Sea).
Over the years there have been many attempts to recover the oil from the oil sands. In the 1900’s most people assumed the bitumen was coming from vast pools of oil deep beneath the surface. In an attempt to locate the pools wells were sunk but no oil was to be found. What they did find was a 150-foot thick bed of rock salt which became a major industry in the area for the next 50 years. The Industrial Minerals Ltd. salt plant was a viable operation until 1950.
The process of extracting the bitumen from the sand has been around since the early 1900’s, at that time it was thought the only use was as road paving material or roofing material. The road from the highway to the Jasper Park Lodge was paved with bitumen as a demonstration project to the province.
What is Oil Sand?
Oil sand is a mixture of bitumen, sand and water. Because it does not flow like conventional crude oil, it must be mined or heated underground before it can be processed.
The oil sands operations here in Fort McMurray, recovers bitumen through surface mining and steam injection technologies and upgrades it into refinery-ready crude oil products.
Bitumen is a naturally occurring, viscous (like molasses) mixture of hydrocarbons. Bitumen molecules can contain thousands of carbon atoms! This makes bitumen one of the most complex molecules found in nature. Bitumen cannot be refined into common petroleum products like gasoline, kerosene, or gas oil without first being extracted and upgraded to crude oil.
Want to learn more about the Athabasca Oil Sands?
You can see it for yourself on a guided tour of Suncor Energy and visit the Oil Sands Discovery Center for an interactive look into the Athabasca Oil Sands.
The process of extracting the bitumen from the sand has been around since the early 1900’s
Oil sand is a mixture of bitumen, sand and water. Each grain of sand is surrounded by a layer of water and a layer of bitumen.
For more information on oil sands operations, please visit the Oil Sands Developers Group or the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Learn about Suncor's plan to eliminate tailings ponds, take a tour and watch this video about this incredible process that will change the oil sands.