The Basics on Oil Sands

Oil sands are a naturally occurring mixture of sand, clay or other minerals, water and bitumen. To process the bitumen into oil, it must first be separated from the water and sand. It is then upgraded and refined to produce transportation fuels such as gasoline and jet fuels as well as chemical feedstock and other products.

Canada’s oil sands are located in three basins in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan: Athabasca, Cold Lake and Peace River. To date, the Athabasca basin is where the majority of oil sands projects have been developed and it is where Nexen’s operations and future development plans are located.

There are two primary recovery methods for the oil sands: surface mining and in-situ. Approximately 20% of the oil sands are located within 70 metres of the surface and can be recovered through surface mining. The remaining 80% of the resource is deeper and requires in-situ (in place) recovery technologies.

In-situ Development
Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) is the most common in-situ recovery process. SAGD operations, such as those used at our Long Lake facility, drill multiple wells horizontally from a well pad into the underground reservoir and uses steam to release the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.

Surface Mining
Nexen has a 7.23% interest in Syncrude’s oil sands mining and upgrading facility, which uses trucks and shovels to remove the oil sands ore. Once mined, the ore is mixed with hot water and transported to an extraction plant where the bitumen is separated from the sand and water. The bitumen is then upgraded into crude oil.
Photo courtesy of Syncrude Canada