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This paper is to be presented at the AIME Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 14–18, 1965, and is considered the property of the Society of Petroleum Engineers of AIME. Permission to publish is hereby restricted to an abstract of not more 300 words, with no illustrations, unless the paper is specifically released to the press by the Editor of Journal of Petroleum Technology or the Executive Secretary. Such abstract should contain conspicuous acknowledgment of where and by whom the paper is presented. Publication elsewhere after publication in Journal of Petroleum Technology or Society of Petroleum Engineers Journal is granted on request, providing proper credit is given that publication and the original presentation of the paper.

Discussion of this paper is invited. Three copies of any discussion should be sent to the Society of Petroleum Engineers office. Such discussion may be presented at the above meeting and considered for publication in one of the two SPE Magazine with the paper.

Introduction

In accepting Mr. Ward C. Pearl's invitation to speak to you on the subject of the Athabasca Oil Sands I was cognizant of the fact that a number of talks have recently been given on the subject and none too sure that I could add much of interest. It did seem, however, that some of you at least might be interested in a broad review of the subject with some emphasis on the current situation and the future outlook. This is what I plan to give. To those of you who heard or have read the excellent review of Mr. L. A. Bellows and Mr. V. E. Bohme presented in Dallas two years ago, my apologies for the necessary repetition.

The Athabasca oil sands of north-eastern Alberta contain one of the worlds largest reserves of economically recoverable oil. The deposit extends over an area of 10,000 square miles and outcrops for a distance of more than 100 miles along the valleys of the Athabasca River and its tributaries. Fort McMurray, a small town in the heart of the oil sands, is approximately 235 air miles north-east of Edmonton. The town is served by railway and air lines, and the Provincial highway system is presently being extended into the area. There are virtually no all-weather secondary roads in this wilderness of muskeg and forest.

Peter Pond, a Northwest Company fur trader and explorer who ventured into the Athabasca River system in 1778, was probably the first white man to see the oil sand outcrops. The tarry oil sands were also referred to in the journals of such famous explorers as Alexander Mackenzie, David Thomson, Sir Johns Franklin and Sir John Richardson between the years 1792 and 1848.

Technical study of the oil sands began in 1875 when a member of the Geological Survey of Canada travelled the Athabasca River on a reconnaissance geological survey. Other geologists followed. After a survey in 1888, R. G. McConnell expressed the belief that the bitumen in the oil sand formation was the residue of a petroleum that entered from the Devonian limes tone below, and that oil might be found in normal fluid form at locations remote from exposures. As a result of his views, several wells were drilled in 1897–98 at Pelican Rapids on the Athabasca River, about 100 miles upstream from Fort McMurray. The oil sand was encountered at a depth of 740 feet and was found to contain the same heavy oil that is observed in the cutbanks near McMurray.

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