Oil sands industry in Calgary and Alberta
Key economic driver
Oil sands, like conventional oil and gas, are a key economic driver for Alberta’s energy industry. The oil sands are deposits of bitumen, a low-viscosity oil that will not flow unless heated or diluted with lighter hydrocarbons. According to Alberta Energy, there are currently 174 billion barrels of recoverable oil in Alberta’s oil sands. There are hundreds of billions of additional barrels that could be recovered; however, this requires more favourable economic conditions and new technology to extract and process.
Recovery and extraction
There are two methods for extracting and recovering bitumen from the oil sands. In mining recovery methods, large areas of land are cleared of trees and brush then the top soil and clay are removed to expose the oil sand. This surface mining method uses large trucks and shovels to remove the sand, which can have a volume of anywhere from 1-20 per cent of actual bitumen.
While mining accounts for 20 per cent of recoverable oil sands, in situ recovery accounts for the remaining 80 per cent. In situ technology is used to extract bitumen that is buried too deep below the earth’s surface to be recovered through mining. To recover the bitumen, in situ technology injects steam deep beneath the earth to separate the bitumen from the sand and pump it to the surface. Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), developed in Alberta between 1986-1998, is the most common form of in situ recovery.
For Alberta’s oil sands industry, strict industry regulations are in place to ensure the ecosystems in and around the oil sands are supported and reclaimed appropriately. All industry is legally obligated to return any land disturbed in bitumen recovery to a productive state – a process referred to as reclamation. Land that is being reclaimed must adhere to a strict set of standards and once it is certified as reclaimed, the land must be monitored to ensure the chemical and physical properties of foliage re-growth are healthy and within industry standards.
In addition, Alberta is the first North American jurisdiction with regulations that require mandatory greenhouse gas reductions from all industrial sectors such as the oil sands. Industry that don’t meet the targets set by the government must purchase offsets or pay into a technology fund (Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund) that has, to date, seen over $100 million invested in supporting projects aimed at more renewable forms of energy and cleaner energy development.
Alberta’s oil sands are a complex part of the province’s energy industry. To learn more about Alberta’s oil sands, visit Oil Sands Today.