Mineable 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.
methods introduced in the 1990s considerably improved efficiency and reduced the
cost. This led to multibillion-dollar expansions of the existing projectswhich has already accounted for about one-sixth of Canada's oil output in 1997plus 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.
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.