One day - One Word

Email This Page

Oil sands


Oil sands are bitumen deposits  which naturally occurred from the mixture of thick, heavy oil, water and sand.

Since the heavy oil is classified as bitumen, Oil sands are scientifically named as Bituminous sands.

Oil sands may also be called Tar sands where Tar refers to the residue produced from organic material distillation such as bitumen.


Canada, Kazakhstan and Russia have the largest oil sands deposits in the world, but Canada concentrates 70% of them.

Since the oil sands reserves have been integrated in the calculation of the oil reserves, Canada holds now more reserves than Saudi Arabia.

In Canada these Oil sand deposits are even concentrated in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan provinces.

The World Energy Council (WEC) defines natural bitumen as oil having a viscosity greater than 10,000 centipoises under reservoir conditions and an API gravity of less than 10 API.

The Oil sands were known for ever but their extraction costs had banned them from large industrial production.

Still in the 1990s the large scale production costs were estimated around $80 per barrel.

But ten years ago, Canadian companies like Syncrude or Imperial Oil improved recovery performances with the development of the horizontal drilling technologies to reduce these costs in the same time as the oil price was increasing making the production of Oil sands commercially viable.

Oil sands are recovered using two methods:

 – Open-pit-mining if the deposit is on the surface

 – In-situ or drilling if the deposit is stocked underground as conventional crude.

The method is selected in respect with the depth of the reserves.

In Canada about 3% of the 140,000 square kilometers of land contain mineable deposit, the other 97% will require the in-situ approach.

These 3% of the surface area contains 20% of the total oil sands deposits.

That means that 80% of the Canadian Oil sand reserves occupying 97% of the surface are recoverable using in-situ techniques not requiring more ground footprint than light crude oil production anywhere else in the world.

Open-pit-mining deposit production will require a classical mining process with heavy shovels, trucks and crushers.

While the in-situ oil recovery uses different techniques such as the Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) and more recently the so called Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD).

In-situ production is based on the injection of steam in the deposit through an horizontal drilling.

The steam will cause the oil to melt within the sands and to drain down.

The melted oil is then collected by a second horizontal drilling roughly positioned 5 meters below the first one and pumping up the melted oil back to the surface.

The advantage of the in-situ process is that it leaves all the sand in the ground.

Hot water extraction were tested first in Canada in the 1920s, then the first steam injection were developed in the 1960s.

Since then all the companies are working to improve its efficiency and reduce its carbon and water footprint.

For more information and data about oil and gas and petrochemical projects go to Project Smart Explorer


For the lastest news about Oil&Gas and Digitalization, do not hesitate to follow our newsletter :

Leave a Reply