Canadian reserves of heavy gravity crude oil are vast and the potential producibility from those reserves are expected to be surplus to Canadian requirements into the 1990's. This paper focuses on the impact that market constraints may have on the future supply of heavy gravity crude oils from the Western Canadian basin. It observes that severe export restrictions will not only limit the orderly development of available reserves in the area but will also impair the prospects of additional enhanced recovery of conventional heavy crude reserves and restrict future experimental applications of oil sands recovery in the Cold Lake deposit of Alberta. Since it is expected that export restrictions for heavy gravity crude oil will be lifted in the future the outlook for expanded development of indigenous reserves is promising.


Heavy crude oil, as presently produced in the western Canadian basin, is generally distinguished from other light and medium crude oil production in the same basin by its low API gravity. For purposes of this paper the authors assume that all crude oil streams with an average API gravity of 25 ° or less are heavy crude oil. Within this general classification further sub-division can be identified:

  • Lloydminster type crude oil which is conventional production of heavy crude oil with API gravity ranging from 12 to 17 °,

  • other heavy crude oil from conventional production ranging in API gravity from 17 to 25 °, and

  • non-conventional heavy crude oil largely occurring as bitumen with a specific gravity of less than 12 ° API. This last group would include all available production from experimental oil sands extraction schemes in Alberta.

In Alberta, Lloydminster type crude oil is considered to be that produced from an area between Townships 43 and 53, Ranges 1 to 7, West of the Fourth Meridian, inclusive, and only from those pools within that area characterized by high viscosity oil and unconsolidated sand reservoirs. Other conventional heavy crude oil is that classified as heavy crude in the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) Report 76–181, exclusive of the Lloydminster type.

In Saskatchewan, oil from pools served by the Husky pipeline and Murphy pipeline systems (Sask. Area 1) is categorized as Lloydminster type heavy crude oil. Oil from pools constituting the Bow River pipeline (Sask. Area II) and the South Saskatchewan pipeline (Sask. Area III) streams is considered to be of the other heavy crude oil type. Consistent with our definition of heavy crude oil, production from the pools comprising the West spur Pipeline stream (Sask. Area IV) is excluded since the authors consider it to be of the light and medium variety.

The oil sands experimental heavy crude oil is that expected to be recovered from experimental projects in the Cold Lake region of Alberta.

These heavy crude oil producing regions are shown on Figure 1.

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