Currently Alberta produces 33,000 tonnes/day of synthetic crude from mined oil sands plus about an additional 21,000 tonnes/day of raw bitumen from in situ recovery projects. II does, therefore, have the technology to produce from a substantial portion of the deposits. The economics of recovery for new capital expansion are however marginal at long term oil price trends. This together with the emphasis on environmental concerns have directed new research and development towards new recovery technology which are both more cost effective and environmentally friendly.
In the mining area, new developments have concentrated on reducing mining cost (50% of plant costs) through the use of dredging and the resulting extraction technology required to handle dredged oil sands. New efforts are also being made to eliminate the tailing ponds both for environmental reasons and to eliminate the cost of selective mining of the overburden for the purpose of obtaining dyke building material. Research is also directed towards the use of borehole mining technology thus greatly increasing the resource exploitable by mining methods.
In the in situ area the two major cost areas are access to the resource and the cost of energy. New research efforts are therefore directed towards better and cheaper access to the resource and the use of technologies which are more energy efficient. Some of these technologies are shaft and tunnel access (SATAC) the use of gravity drainage to horizontal wells, improved drilling technology, steam or gas assisted gravity drainage 10 horizontal wells, top down processes and the use of combustion in thick reservoirs.
The paper will review the above emerging technologies and indicate the authors view of the direction and potential of each.
In 1975, when AOSTRA was founded, very litlle oil was being produced from Alberta's immense oil sands deposits. One plant was operating in the surface minable Athabasca oil sands using the wellknown Clark hot water process. This plant had serious environmental and conservation limitations and the process was only applicable to about 5% of the total oil sands resource. The task of AOSTRA, therefore, in its first 15 years, was to develop the technology that would enable industry to exploit the other 95% of the resource and to develop more environmentally friendly technology which at the same time resulted in high recoveries and high conversion to consumable products.
AOSTRA and industry, working together, have been very successful in developing such technology over the past 15 years. So much, so that today large portions of most of the deposits can be exploited, bitumen conversions are much higher, recoveries are much better and environmental concerns have been addressed. Today, over 1/3 of Alberta's oil Is produced from oil sands and this number must continue to increase as conventional production declines if Alberta and Canada are to maintain petroleum self sufficiency.
While AOSTRA and the industry have made major strides forward in technological development, the cost of producing oil from the oil sands is marginal when compared to the long term historic price for crude.