Alberta Oil Sands

Oil Sands Recovery


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AER's Oil Sands FAQ

Last modified:
June 12, 2013

Total Oil Supply

In 2003, Alberta's reserves estimates of remaining established reserves are 174.5 billion barrels (Gb), comparable with the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. In 2001, Alberta's production of raw bitumen and synthetic crude oil (SCO) exceeded that for conventional crude oil, accounting for 53% of Alberta's oil production. This trend is expected to increase to about 80% of Alberta's oil production by 2013.

alberta total oil supply

Alberta's total oil supply, projected and forecast from 1994 to 2013, showing relative amounts derived from conventional oil (Light-Medium), heavy oil (Heavy), extra-heavy oil (Pentanes Plus), synthetic crude oil (SCO), and nonupgraded bitumen (from Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, 2004).

Development of the Canadian oil sands industry has a history of over 90 years. In 1913, Sidney Ells organized the first field parties to work on the oil sands, hauling out over 9 tons of oil sands by scows up the Athabasca River valley. Today, near Fort McMurray, oil sands are recovered in open-pit mines by truck-and-shovel operations, in which the world's largest Caterpillar 797 and 797B trucks have payloads of 380 tons. Oil sand is transported to processing plants, where hot or warm water separates the bitumen from the sand, followed by dilution with lighter hydrocarbons and upgrading to SCO - a mixture of pentanes and heavier hydrocarbons. About 20% of the oil sands reserves in Alberta are recoverable by surface mining; in-situ technologies need to be used for the remaining 80% of the oil sands that are buried at depth (>75 m).

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