Sunday , 16 June 2024

The Oil Sands are NOT the "Tar" Sands and 9 More Interesting Facts (+2K Views)

The oil sands in northern Alberta are crucially important to the Canadian economy. People from all over the country are traveling there to find work. The news is filled with controversy over proposed pipelines (the Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway) to carry the oil to export markets. Here are 10 things everyone should know about the oil sands. Words: 878

So says an article* posted on which Lorimer Wilson, editor of (A site for sore eyes and inquisitive minds) and (Your Key to Making Money!) has further edited ([ ]), abridged (…) and reformatted (some sub-titles and bold/italics emphases) below for the sake of clarity and brevity to ensure a fast and easy read. The article’s views and conclusions are unaltered and no personal comments have been included to maintain the integrity of the original article. Please note that this paragraph must be included in any article re-posting to avoid copyright infringement.

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The article goes on to say, in part:

1. The oil sands are NOT the “tar” sands

(credit: Getty Images)

In the past, the oil sands were referred as tar sands because the bitumen – the very viscous oil found in the oil sands – was used for roofing and paving tar. This was an ineffective use of the oil sands because it did not harden enough.


2. Alberta has the third highest amount of proven crude oil reserves in the world

(credit: Getty Images)

After Saudi Arabia (260.1 billion barrels) and Venezuela (211.1 billion), Alberta with 170.8 billion barrels ranks third. Of that, 169.3 billion barrels are crude bitumen in the oil sands and 1.5 billion barrels are in conventional crude. Alberta holds 96% of Canada’s oil reserves.


3. Only 54% of the oil in the oil sands is currently recoverable

(credit: Getty Images)

There are 315 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil in Alberta’s oil sands. Under current economic conditions – mainly the price of oil – and the technology available, only 170.8 billion barrels are worth recovering.


4. The U.S., Venezuela and Russia also have oil sands

(credit: Getty Images)

Oil sands are also found in Venezuela, the United States and Russia. Alberta’s oil sands are the largest, the most developed and use the most advanced production processes.


5. 2 methods are used to extract oil from the oil sands

(credit: Getty Images)

The two main ways are:

  1. surface mining: where the bitumen must be within 75 metres of the surface. Approximately 2 tonnes of sand is dug up to find one barrel of synthetic crude oil. Only about 20% of the oil sands oil is recoverable through this method  
  2. in situ recovery: uses steam, solvent or thermal energy to make it possible to pump the bitumen to the surface. Immense amounts of water are necessary to recover the bitumen and the oil companies involved are working on recycling and reducing the amount of water used.


 6. Bitumen from the oil sands must be upgraded before it is sold as crude oil

The oil sands bitumen has been degraded by million of years of organic processes which leave it with too much carbon or too little hydrogen.The upgrading, which is usually done near Edmonton, involves three steps:

  1. separating the compounds;
  2. improving the hydrogen to carbon ratio and
  3. removing contaminants such as sulphur.


7. Upgraded bitumen (known as synthetic crude) travels by pipeline to refineries across North America

(credit: Getty Images)

Most of the oil sands oil is moved through pipelines to refineries or to ports for shipping. Most of it is refined in California, the U.S. Midwest, the Gulf Coast and southern Ontario and Quebec. A small amount is refined in Alberta for local use. Two new controversial pipelines have been proposed:

  1. the Keystone XL would carry oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and
  2. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project would travel over the Rockie Mountains to the British Columbia coast.


8. Producing oil from the oil sands creates more greenhouse gases than from ”conventional” oil

(credit: Getty Images)

In situ excavation creates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases per barrel of the final product as conventional oil. In situ ”well to wheels” emissions – which includes combustion of final product – creates 5% – 15% more carbon dioxide than average crude oil, according to the consulting firm Cambridge Energy Research Associates.


9. Oil companies are required to return mine sites to their natural states once a mine is finished

(credit: Getty Images)

Once a company is finished with a mine site, the developer is required to restore the site so that the ecosystem is as healthy as it was before. For a surface mine, this means putting the sand, clay and gravel back into the mine, followed by topsoil so that the forests will regenerate. Surface mining has disturbed 715 square kilometres of oil sands land. About 71 square kilometres are under active reclamation, including more than 7.5 million newly planted seedlings. Most of the oil sands are only accessible by in situ methods that disturb only 10% to 15% of a similar sized surface mine.


10. The oil sands are the highest non-renewable revenue generator in Alberta

(credit: Getty Images)

In fiscal year 2010 – 2011, the Alberta government collected more than $3.7 billion in royalties from the oil sands. This was the second fiscal year that the oil sands were the top source of non-renewable resource revenue in the province. This money became part of the government’s general revenues, which funds hospitals, schools and infrastructure.  *

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