Oil sands are a complex mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen, which requires extensive separation and upgrading processes before it could be used as synthetic crude feed-to-oil refineries. The proportion of bitumen in oil sands varies however, the typical breakdown is: sand 83%, bitumen 10-12 %, water 4% and clay 3%.
Oil sands reserves are spread in 3 distinct areas of northern Alberta that cover a total of area 140,200 km2. The 3 areas are: Athabasca deposits (largest reserves), the Cold Lake deposit and the Peace River deposit
It takes a great deal of effort to convert oil sands into oil, which can be used as feedstock in refineries. Bitumen, which is trapped inside the complex mixture of sand water and clay, takes large amounts of energy, water and other resources to be converted into crude oil. After extracting from ore, bitumen is very thick, black and viscous substance that goes through intensive upgrading before it transforms into synthetic crude oil.
Oil sands production technologies vary depending on where the depth of the accessible ore of oil sands is found. Depths can vary from 50 to 200 m from the ground and recovery of oil sands ore from the ground calls for different techniques. Open Pit Mining is used for shallow resources and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage is used for deeper resources.