The Story of Oil Sand


Is it possible to produce Oil from Sand? Yes!
Canada has 3rd largest Oil reserves in the World and 97% of Oil reserves are tapped in sand called “Oil Sand”. Out of “173 Billion Barrels” of oil reserves “167 Billion Barrels” are present in the Oil Sands.
So here Question comes what are Oil Sands?
Basically Oil Sands are naturally occurring mixture of “sand, clay, water and bitumen” lies in the category of Unconventional Petroleum deposits. According to National Energy Board of Canada Bitumen main component of oil sands which can be refined into diesel fuel is defined as “A highly viscous mixture of hydrocarbons heavier than pentanes which, in its natural state, is not usually recoverable at a commercial rate through a well because it is too thick to flow”.
Canada’s oil sands have drawn attention for more than 200 years. Historical background date back as far as 1715, when “James Knight”, wrote in his journal about “gum or pitch that flows out of the banks of a river” (The Athabasca). Efforts to exploit the oil sands resource began in the early 20th century.
Oil sands are recovered using two main technical methods:
1. Open Pit Mining
Large shovels scoop the oil sands into huge trucks which transfer it to crusher.
Large pieces of clay are broken down at crusher units.
Oil sand is then mixed with water & transported to plant via pipeline.
Bitumen is separated from other compounds.
Recovery rate through this process is 90% —— useful & cost-effective.
20% Oil sands are present close to earth’s surface.
2. In-Situ Drilling
In situ drilling accounts for 80% of oil sands reserves because mostly these reserves are located below 200ft from surface.
Advanced technology (Directional Drilling) is utilized to inject steam, combustion or other sources of heat into the reservoir which warms the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface through recovery wells.
Majority of in situ operations are performed through steam-assisted gravity drainage, or SAGD.
Steam is pumped underground through a horizontal well to liquefy the bitumen, which is then pumped to the surface through a second recovery well.
Recovery rate is 50—65%
Another method is Cyclic Steam Stimulation in which steam is pumped down through a vertical well to liquefy the bitumen, which is then pumped to the surface through the same well.
Recovery rate is 30—-40%.
Crude oil which is derived from the oil sands is usually sent to refineries across North America to make gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel and other consumer products and then utilized commercially.
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About author

Muhammad Taimur

3rd year student of B.Sc Petroleum & Natural Gas Engineering at University of Engineering & Technology Lahore, Pakistan.Interested in writing research articles related to Petroleum technology and on social issues.Currently working as ambassador for YoungPetro in Pakistan, Chairman of Environmental & Science pages at Haashiya Magazine, Pakistan and President of Pakistan Career Counseling Wing.

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