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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Hydrocarbons > Oil Sands Resources > Resource Development > Oil Sands Mining Projects

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Oil Sands Mining Projects

Great Canadian Oil Sands—BucketwheelMineable bitumen deposits are located near the surface and can be recovered by open-pit mining techniques. The Syncrude Canada Ltd. and Suncor Energy Inc. oil sands projects near Fort McMurray initially used huge excavators to recover the oil sand, which was then carried to the plant by conveyor belts. This system was expensive to operate and maintain.

New mining methods introduced in the 1990s considerably improved efficiency and reduced the cost. This led to multibillion-dollar expansions of the existing projects—which has already accounted for about one-sixth of Canada's oil output in 1997—plus proposals for additional mining projects.

The new systems use hydraulic and electrically powered shovels to scoop up the oil sand and load it into enormous trucks which can carry up to 320 tonnes at a time. The trucks dump their loads into a machine that breaks up the lumps and removes rocks from the sand, then mixes it with hot water to create a slurry carried by pipeline to the processing plant.

This hydro-transport eliminates the need for long conveyor belts and also begins the process of separating the bitumen from sand, water and minerals. In the plant, a hot water process completes the separation of the bitumen.

Petroleum Communication Foundation. Our Petroleum Challenge: Exploring Canada's Oil and Gas Industry, Sixth Edition. Calgary: Petroleum Communication Foundation, 1999. With permission from the Centre for Energy.

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