Canada's largest known oil reserves are the Athabasca tar sands, located in the northeast corner of the province of Alberta.
Canada's largest known oil reserves are the Athabasca tar sands, located in the northeast corner of the province of Alberta. Experts from various oil companies estimate that the Athabasca area alone holds reserves of six hundred thousand million barrels. The problem facing the oil companies and the Canadian government is to devise economically feasible methods of extracting the oil.
A 300 million dollar (125 million Sterling) plant owned by Great Canadian Oil Sands (GCOS) is currently in operation near Fort McMurray, 250 miles north of Edmonton. But even though the price of oil has climbed to between 4 to 5 dollars (1.75 to 2 Sterling) a barrel, the plants still not showing a profit.
The main deposits are scattered over 12-thousand square miles. The deposits are highly fractured in areas and depth and extend in all angles, same near the surface others as deep as two thousand feet. The oil, as the name of the deposits imply, is mixed with sand. There is no proven way of extracting the bitumen sands below the hundred foot level.
In addition, the heavy oils are difficult to handle because they are low grade. The quality and chemical composition of all types of oil is highly variable and there are a number of technical problems in mining and transporting the sand.
For 75 years, engineers have devised theories on how to exploit the tar sands. But the cheapest method of extracting oil from shallow deposits would mean a selling price of 8.50 dollars (3.5 Sterling) a barrel if a profit is to be made. This is 3.50 to 4.50 Dollars (1.50 to 1.85 Sterling) more than the current price of oil in Canada. But with only a twelve year reserved of known oil left under Western Canada, and the United States already suffering a petroleum shortage, a number of oil companies, including Shell and Imperial Oil (Exxon), are planning to build at least five extraction plants at tar sands in Athabasca, Peace River and Cold Lake, all in Alborta, before 1990.