What are Oil Sands?

Published by Thomas Herold in Economics, Investments

'Oil Sands' is explained in detail and with examples in the Investments edition of the Herold Financial Dictionary, which you can get from Amazon in Ebook or Paperback edition.

Oil Sands prove to be a unique mixture of water, sand, clay, and bitumen. They exist in a few places throughout the globe, such as Canada, Russia, the United States, Kazakstan, and Venezuela. Bitumen is actually a form of oil which is so heavy (or thick) that it can neither be pumped out or flow naturally on its own.

This is why bitumen must be either heated up or diluted. At temperatures such as 50° F/10° C, this bitumen is in a state of matter which is a solid. It is so hard at this temperature that it has been compared to a hockey puck. While this bitumen is occasionally discovered about 200 feet or less under the earth’s surface (70 meters down or less), the vast majority of it lies significantly deeper below the ground.

The bitumen in oil sand becomes more viscous at room temperature. When it is this temperature, it flows at the speed of cold molasses. Thanks to the rapid advance in technology, a range of specifically developed methods of treating these sands exist today. Oil sands producers also benefit from the continuous advance of technology and ongoing research in this field which makes it more and more economical to produce traditional oil from this amazingly useful sand.

While oil sand has been unearthed in places such as the United States, Russia, and Venezuela, the largest, best developed, and most technically advanced production site for it on earth is in the Alberta province of Canada at the Athabasca deposits. The oil sands for which Alberta has become synonymous and world famous lie beneath 54,800 square miles of land (or 142,000 square kilometers). Around three percent of this land, or 1,850 square miles (4,800 square kilometers), might be potentially impacted through mining operations for extracting the energy rich oil sand.

The overwhelming balance of 97 percent of the surface area in this huge deposit will only be recovered using methods known as in-situ drilling. The advantage of this removal technique lies in the fact that it barely disturbs the surface land area. Canadians are relieved when they learn that the actively mined part of the oil sands mega field is only 346 square miles large (or 904 kilometers square). This amounts to a piece of land a little bigger than the city Calgary in Alberta.

People and miners have been aware of these oil bearing sands for many years. In the past, it was utilized for paving and roofing tar, a practice that has become ineffective and outdated. This was never a great use for these sands, as they did not properly harden enough to be good material for the construction industry. Tar is actually quite different from an oil sand even though they look about the same to the untrained eye and observer.

An oil sand represents a petrochemical which occurs naturally, while tar is a man made substance. Tar results from the by-product of hydrocarbons. As such it is truly the final waste product derived from degrading them. Tar makes an effective sealer for ropes and wood against the invasion of moisture. The oil sand is elegant enough to be refined to both commercially viable oil and finally fuels.

The proven reserves of bitumen in the world hold around 100 billion barrels of oil equivalent. This amounts to approximately five percent of the proven world oil reserves. An astonishing nearly 71 percent of these proven reserves lie in Alberta, Canada, making this truly the world center for production both today and in the foreseeable future.

The oil sand industry in Canada has suffered somewhat thanks to the predatory practices of Saudi Arabia and their global OPEC oil cartel. Along with their assault on the U.S. shale oil industry, the Saudi’s plot to drive down oil prices in order to force their newer competitors out of the business affected Canadian Oil Sands. While Canadian oil sands are still effectively produced in the $40’s and $50’s per barrel, they are not much profitable at these lower prices.

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The term 'Oil Sands' is included in the Investments edition of the Herold Financial Dictionary, which you can get from Amazon in Ebook or Paperback edition.