Karl Clark Process"
The Athabasca oil sands first reached public attention in the late 1700s, when fur traders
noticed heavy oil seeping from riverbanks. By the late 1890s, the federal
government began sponsoring investigations into the energy potential of the oil
sands. But despite the fact that their existence has been known for centuries,
oil sands are a relative newcomer to Canada's energy scene. This situation has
less to do with the lack of interest than the lack of a workable technology.
With an average composition of 83.3 percent carbon and 10.5 percent hydrogen, bitumen is too thick in its natural state to flow like conventional oil. In
addition, the molasses-like bitumen is locked in the sand. The trick was to find
a reliable and economical way to retrieve the oil.
Enter Dr. Karl Clark, a chemist with the Alberta Research Council. In 1929,
Clark patented a hot water and caustic soda mixture for the extraction of bitumen
form oil sands. He fed the mined oil sands into a large rotating drum, then
mixed them under high temperatures with steam, hot water and caustic soda to
separate sand and bitumen. The resulting liquid could then be processed further
and upgraded into synthetic crude oil.
The Clark invention single-handedly created a new industry in
would soon grow to be enormous in scope. The 3 oil sands depositsAthabasca,
Cold Lake and Peace Rivercover 77,000 square kilometers and together contain
two-thirds of the world's bitumen. The economic implications of Clark's
discovery are equally staggering. Today's oil sands operations employ 8,500
people, and oil sands plants spend over $1.8 billion annually on goods, services
and salaries. Experts point out that with each new billion dollars of capital
investment in the oil sands projects, there is a 1.5 billion dollar boost to the
Gross National Product.
Simpson, Bob. "10 Developments that revolutionized what we do and how we do it", Alberta Venture, (October 1997), 31-40.
permission from the Alberta Venture.
Early Oilsands Exploration
In the 1920s, Jacob Absher experiments with ways to get the oil from the bituminous sands...
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