Oil Sands

With more than 1.8 trillion barrels of bitumen in the ground, Alberta’s oil sands are among the world’s largest deposits of crude oil. But with big reserves come big responsibilities. The AER has always recognized this fact and has developed a rigorous and transparent regulatory framework that continues to evolve to meet new challenges and opportunities.

What are the oil sands?
Oil sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water, and bitumen. Bitumen is extra-heavy crude oil, some of which is so viscous that it cannot flow on its own. When bitumen is deposited at shallow depths of less than about 65 metres, it can be surface mined; however, about 80 per cent of the recoverable bitumen reserves in Alberta are buried too deep to mine and can only be recovered by drilling wells. This is referred to as “in situ” recovery (Latin for “in position”).

Where are oil sands deposits located in Alberta?
Oil sands occur around the world, but Alberta sits atop the largest known deposits.

This diagram of Alberta shows the surface area that active oil sands deposits cover and what portion is close enough to the surface to be mined. Within the 381 000 square kilometres of boreal forest in Alberta, about 90 000 square kilometres contain active oil sands deposits. Of that, only 4800 square kilometres (about 5 per cent) is close enough to the surface to be mined.