Canada’s oil sands are a major source of energy for the country and possibly, for the world. It is estimated that Canada produces up to 172 billion barrels of oil. Of this number calculated, it is predicted that at least 166 billion of those barrels will have been contributed by oil sands. Currently, Canada has the largest deposits of oils sands in the world in Athabasca in Alberta.
What are Oil Sands?
An oil sand is composed of sand, water, clay (and sometimes other minerals), and bitumen. Bitumen is an incredibly viscous and thick oil that cannot flow or be propelled unless it is diluted or heated. A small portion of the manufactured bitumen is present about 70 metres below the surface. Most of the deposits, however, are found much deeper than that.
Most of the oil sands can be retrieved through in-situ production. This is when the viscosity of the bitumen is reduced to allow the deposits deep within the earth to flow to the surface. The two methods are cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) and steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). The most commonly used technique is SAGD which uses two horizontal wells drilled into the deposits. High pressure steam is pumped into one, forcing melted bitumen to flow into the other. It is then pumped out.
Only about 20 percent of the bitumen is retrieved through the use of mining. Once the bitumen has been recovered, it must be treated. Only then, can it be utilized by the refineries. The bitumen is capable of producing gasoline and diesel.
The Pipeline Projects
The pipelines are a means of transporting the bitumen from its source in Alberta to various other parts of the country. The existing pipelines include Enbridge system, Trans Mountain Pipeline, and Spectra Energy system.
The Enbridge system has a complex line of pipelines extending from Edmonton and Hardisty to Montreal and even spreading to the Gulf Coast of the United States. The Trans Mountain Pipeline is responsible for carrying the crude oil from Edmonton, passing over the Rocky Mountains before supplying certain regions of British Columbia and Washington State. Spectra Energy is tasked with transporting the liquid oil from Hardisty all the way to Wyoming and even Illinois.
These pipelines are continuously attempting to expand and create new systems. Some of the most prominent and recent ones have been:
The Keystone XL Pipeline Project: this proposal includes a pipeline that is 1,897 km in length and 36 inches in diameter. It begins in Hardisty, Alberta and ends in Steele City Nebraska. This project has been temporarily halted due to a denial by President Obama. TransCanada has been attempting to overturn this decision.
Northern Gateway Pipeline Project: this pipeline routes begins at Bruderheim in Alberta and crosses over British Columbia to reach the port of Kitimat. It is estimated to cover a distance of 1,177 km. Combined, the pipeline will be responsible for carrying 525,000 barrels of oil each day.
Energy East Pipeline Project: this 4,600 kilometre pipeline will be carrying about 1.1 million barrels of oil every day. Its route begins at Alberta and Saskatchewan and ends in the eastern part of the country in New Brunswick and Saint John.
Trans Mountain Expansion: this pipeline aims to escalate the amount of oil that is currently been carried from Alberta to Vancouver in British Columbia. This plan also includes transporting crude oil to Asian regions with the help of tanker ships.
Canada is attempting to considerably expand the pipelines that they currently have in place. A variety of companies are devising different strategies to increase the amount of crude oil that is transported across the country as well as into the United States.