Oil Sands

Definition - What does Oil Sands mean?

Oil Sands are a mixture of sand, clay or rocky substances occurring naturally, which contain significant portion of crude bitumen.

The study of Oil Sands is significant because:

  • It has significantly contributed to the Canadian economy,
  • New techniques of treatment of this bitumen are continuously being developed.
  • Improved situ techniques are able to reduce environmental impact due to bitumen extraction from Oil Sands, buried deep beneath the earth.

Bitumen extraction from Oil Sands is done by using two categories of techniques:

  1. Surface (Open pit) Mining techniques: This involves clearing of a very large area of land as well as the trees. Some large machines, trucks as well as shovels are used to remove the sand, which contains 1% to 20% of bitumen.
  2. In situ as a group of techniques involving the injection of high pressure steam or solvents, deep inside the earth to make bitumen less viscous and separate it from the sand, so as to be able to pump it to the top of the earth’s surface.

Petropedia explains Oil Sands

Oil Sands are naturally occurring resources. They can be a mixture of bitumen, rock material, sand, other substances and water in certain cases. Bitumen is viscous petroleum oil, which must be processed before it can be a feedstock to refineries to produce various fuels such as light diesel, kerosene and gasoline. A variety of technical processes are available to Oil Sands companies for bitumen extraction as well as the subsequent treatment to convert it to an acceptable product for refiners.

Oil Sands are found in many locations around the world, including, but not limited to, Canada, Venezuela and the US. In Canada, the Athabasca deposits (of Alberta) are the most valuable property and they have the advantage of the latest production processes.

Oil Sands deposits were mistakenly called tar sands in the past. Historically this bitumen was also used for roofing and paving. This bitumen looks like tar; however, the properties are not identical. While Oil Sands are naturally occurring petroleum deposits, tar is a chemically processed material that is largely the residue of hydrocarbon refining. Their applications are different; Oil Sands bitumen can be treated and refined to make fuel oil, while tar cannot be used to make fuel oil.

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