applying scientific research to oil sands and hydrocarbon recovery for sixty
Six decades have
passed since Dr. Karl Clark, the first professional employee of the Alberta
Research Council, sought patent protection for his novel hot water process of
separating bitumen from oil sands.
In these days,
with residents of a fledgling province clamoring for more and better roads, the
focus was on the use of bitumen as a paving material. But even then, there was a
sense of the enormous potential of the "bituminous" sand as an energy
source as well.
The year was
1928and at that point, Dr. Clark had already spent seven years on laboratory
scale investigations of his bitumen extraction technology. Both he and his
government sponsors were certain it would work.
scientists note the secret of the Clark process lay, not in its complexity, but
in its very simplicity and effectivenessattributes which have since sent the
technology adopted by the two commercial oil sands operations in northern
Alberta's vast Athabasca Oil Sands.
Thus, when the
patent was awarded in 1929, the implications were twofold. On one hand, it
marked the successful culmination of one phase of unusually dedicated oil sands
research. On the other, it heralded a new era of scientific investigation
related to the province's oil sands and heavy oil resources, which continues to
From the outset,
continuous provincial support was aimed at making the hot water process
commercially viable. In 1930, that commitment saw the Research Council operate a
pilot plant on the Clearwater River near Fort McMurray. In 1948, it led to a
demonstration of the Clark hot water process at Bitumount on the banks of the
Athabasca Rivera valuable exercise which yielded the proof industry had been
waiting for. It was clear the hot water process would work under actual
operating conditions. The next step was commercial development!
technology advances are not always accompanied by ideal economic conditions.
This was the case with oil sands development in Alberta and it was to be 19
years before the first commercial pants began operations at Tar Island. Built
and operated by Sun Oil, this undertaking would be followed a little later by a
second operationthe Syncrude Canada Ltd. Plant at Mildred Lake.
Both oil sand
mining operations, which use extraction processes based on Clark's hot water
separation technology, now produce a good percentage of Canada's oil.
Following the Vision. Celebrating 60
Years of Successful Oil Sands Research. With permission from the