Our company Oil Sands Ltd works in oil extraction.
Oil sands are found in various countries throughout the world, but in vast quantities in Alberta and Venezuela. Alberta’s oil sand reserves are estimated at 1.7 to 2.5 trillion barrels of oil trapped in the complex oil sand mixture, and this represents the largest single reserve of oil in the world. About 15% of this is currently recoverable, which amounts to about 75% of the petroleum reserves in North America. Only recently (with dramatic changes in the way the world views oil reserves) these oil sands have come to be included in the tally of global petroleum reserves. As of 2003, Canada now maintains the second largest proved oil reserve in the world (next to Saudi Arabia).
Canada is the largest supplier of crude oil and refined products to the United States and constitutes near 18% of US imports (as of 2007), or about 1.8 million barrels per day. Canada’s bulk production capacity from oil sands is about 1 million barrels per day, and the bulk of this is exported to the U.S.
Water makes up about 4% of the oil sand by weight. It surrounds each grain of sand (“water wetted”), keeping it separate from the oil. Without this water envelope, the oil and the sand could not be separated by the water-based extraction methods that are currently used. In fact, many of the oil sands found in the U.S. are “hydrocarbon wetted”, and thus require an alternate bitumen extraction process.
Water extraction methods inject hot water into the sand mixture, which is then agitated for a period of time. This process causes the bitumen to separate out from the sand and water, where it attaches to air bubbles (because bitumen is “hydrophobic”, or prefers to mix with air over water…oil and water don’t mix) and floats to the surface of the agitation cells. After being skimmed off of the top, the bitumen is further processed to separate any remnant sand and water (with the addition of a solvent, such as naphtha). The bitumen is then ready for use as bitumen, but will likely undergo a chemical process to produce synthetic crude oil, accomplished by adding hydrogen and removing carbon from the bitumen compounds, which can then be refined as with other crude oils.