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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Oil Sands

Alberta's bitumen deposits were called tar sands but are now referred to as oil sands. Bitumen is a thick, sticky form of crude oil, it is so heavy and viscous that it will not flow unless heated or diluted with lighter hydrocarbons. Heavy oil and bitumen consist of large hydrocarbon molecules, which contain proportionately more carbon atoms than hydrogen atoms.

Once the oil has been removed from the sand it has to be treated and processed. Ultimately, heavy oil and bitumen are used to make the same petroleum products as conventional forms of crude oil; however, more processing is required. Separation continues at the plant where the bitumen forms a thick froth at the top of the separation vessel and the sand settles out to the bottom. Material, which includes water, from the middle part of the vessel is further processed to remove more bitumen. The water is then recycled and the sand is used in mine site reclamation. Froth is treated using inclined plate settlers or centrifuges to remove water and solids.



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