Bitumen, the molasses-grade oil stuff mentioned above, is what we call the heavy oil extracted from the oil sands. It has to be treated and upgraded before it can be used as oil. The oil sand from the Athabasca area in Alberta contains about 83% sand, 3% clay, 4% water and 10% bitumen. It takes in the neighborhood of two tons of oil sand to produce a full barrel of oil. And it takes about two to three barrels of water to produce one barrel of bitumen.
According to Alberta, Canada government sources, there are 173 billion barrels of oil in the oil sands proven to be recoverable with today’s technology. And there is an estimated total of 315 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil in the oil sands with technological advances. Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, and clay. Theories of how this resource formed suggest that light crude oil from southern Alberta migrated north and east with the same pressures that formed the Rocky Mountains. Over time the actions of water and bacteria formed the light crude into bitumen, the heavier, carbon rich and much more viscous oil product. The oil saturated sand deposits left over from ancient rivers are in three main areas – Peace River, Cold Lake and Athabasca, which is the largest and closest to the surface.
While conventional oil flows naturally or is pumped from the ground, oil sands are mined or extracted in place. Oil sand recovery processes include extraction and a separation system to remove the bitumen from sand and water.