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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - March 21, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta 38 TNt IttHBRIDOE HERAID Wi-ctnaJ.rf.iy, March SI, The Athabasca oil sands Stories and photos by Joe Will of CP Athabasca Oil Sands Colgory Mecficine Hot Lelhbridge THE B.C. PEA GROWERS LIMITED LIMITED QUANTITY OF FORAGE SEED SALE PHONE 362-4255 BROOKS, ALBERTA Energy source The Athoboscci oil sonds, square miles of se- dimentary sand in north- eastern Alberta, are satur- ated wilh tar-like oil, and contain 1 3 times the proven i reserves of conventional crude oil in North America. FORT McMURRAY, Alia. CCP1 Tlie Athabasca oil sands, square miles of sedimentary sand in north- e a s I e rn Albetla saturated with tar-like oil, are a reas- .suriiig morsel in Ihe struggle lo saitisty North America's vo- racious appetite (or energy fuels. The sands. 250 miles north- east of Edmonton, contain 13 times tlie proven reserves of conventional crude oil in North staggering amount that holds the poten- tial to meet the continent's needs [or many years. Energy users, oilmen and politicians have been fasci- nated with the sands for al- most 200 years, though their attention has frequently shifted lo covereri sources of energy. Even when the action was elsewhere, the sands were considered n source to fall hack on when other fuels were exhausted. They moved to centre-stage this winter, when parts of the United States were buffeted by shortages of heating a chilling reminder lhat exist- ing sources of crude oil in North America are being outstripped by demand. Supply A growing attraction ol the sands to the U.S. is that they offer a secure supply com- pared with that coming from the Middle East. The sands have no! always. been considered an energy source. They were first noted by fur trader Peter Pond in 1733 when he saw the Indians wa- terproof their canoes with the viscous tar which on warm days drips from layers ex- posed along river banks. Except as a paving material or a roofing tnr, the sands had little economic value until the production of the internal combustion engine. ft has just been in the last 50 years that they have emerged as a posible source of fuel. ft is not so much the quality of the bitumen, which is more like coal than gasoline, which attracts attention but the sheer volume. Savel33 Supramatic Heavy Duty Shocks These shocks are guaranteed for miles! Supramatic shocks give better riding control and safety than regular equipment shocks. Restore new car riding comfort economy way. Reg. 6 66 ENDS P.M. SATURDAY Save! All Season oil Meets or exceeds all car warranty require- ments. Top aualitv. Reg. <52 K, Save on Oil filters Meels manufacturer's new car warranty specifica- tions Reg. to Save! Air filter value Meets new oar specifications For better power, mifeagfl. Reg. S2.98 to Save! Spark plug special Guaranteed for one year or miles. Why pay more for quality pluqs. SERVICE STATION HOURS: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Daily Thimday and Friday until 9 p.m. Centre Village 2nd Ave. and 13lh Si. N. The Athabasca sands con- tain an estimated 626-billioo barrels of raw bitumen, of which 309 billion now are be- lieved recoverable. If all the recoverable b it u m e n were processed it would yield 267- billion barrels of synthetic crude along with coke, sul- phur and mineral products. At the of 1971, the last year for which figures are available, total conventional reserves in North America were 46.3-billion barrels. The tenacity with which the sand holds onto the oil has been the obstacle thst thwarted developers, broke their hopes and exhausted Uieir finances. The problem was first at- tacked on a long-term basis in 1919 .with the formation of the Alberta Research Council by the provincial government. Dr. Karl A. Clark of the council developed the hot water flotation process now used 111 extraction. Patents were acquired in 1928 but they expired before the process was commercially used. Skimmed off The process tumbles the sand in hot water and steam, producing a pulp that goes into four large separation cells. The oil floats to the lop in the form of froth and is skimmed off. The sand falls to- the bottom and is removed to a disposal area. Not until Abasand Oils Ltd. arrived in 1929 and eventually constructed an o p e ra li ng plant in 1940 did the sands re- lease the oil in a form suita- ble for refining. A fire in 1941 destroyed the plant but it was rebuilt with federal aid in 1944 in an at- tempt to acquire secure oil supplies during the Second World War. It burned again the following year and was abandoned. The Alberta government op- erated a plant successfully in 1949. Development lapsed in the 1950s, then resumed early in the 1960s with the province receiving three applications for oil sands extraction plants. Tiie one accepted was that of Great Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. a subsidiary of Sim Oil Co. of Philadelphia, and that led in 1967 to the first commercial operation. Dominate The Sands development, like the rest of the oil industry in Canada, is dominated by U.S. companies either directly or indirectly. Syncrude Canada Ltd., now considering a plant, is owned by four Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. firms. Shell Canada Ltd., con- trolled indirectly by Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., was one of the three oil sands appli- cants in 1963 along with the Syncrude group. Like the Syncrude group, Shell has not given up on its mining process. The company is planning an in situ, or In place, pilot project that uses wells to exploit sands too deep lo be mined economically. The project is scheduled for next year in the Peace River oil sands of northwestern Al- berta. These sands contain an estimated 277-billion barrels of recoverable bitumen. Amoco Canada Ltd., owned by Standard Oil Co. is adding another million to the 59 million II has al- ready spent in exploring in situ methods in the Athabasca sands. Undisturbed In the "in situ' process the Ml is removed without dis- turbing the deposit. Industry sources say that since a large part of the sands lies under a substantial thicknes of over- burden, such methods must developed and commercial- ized before a large percentage of the oil can be extracted. By the midl9K's all the sands were under lease, in- cluding some held by Japex Canada Ltd., which is con- trolled from Japan Len Bland, public relations representative for GCOS, said groups of Japanese visitors toured the plant frequently during the late 1960s, taking pictures and "asking the right questions." He said they were talking of a extrac- tion plant (compared with barrels from GCOS) and a 48-inch pipeline to Prince Rupert on the British Columbia coast. In late 1971 Bill Dickie, pro- vincial minister of mines and minerals, said the Japanese indicated they were not inter- ested unles they could get oil sands production, hut when Mr. Dickie visited the country a year later Ihey said they were only awaiting the prov- inces new oil sands policy. Updated The province is in the throes of updating Ihe policy, which was last reviewed in 196S, and Mr. Dickie said the government is taking consid- erable care because of ths long-range effect of, for exam- ple, the royalty structure. "There is no doubt that the Athabasca oil sands are Al- berta's greatest Mr, Dickie said. But Frank Spragins, presi- dent of Syncrude, says many formidable economic c h a 1- lenges remain lo he con- quered before large-scale de- velopment of the sands be- gins. "The returns from a major sands mining project are than Mr. Spragins said. "Some Alhertans have ft dangerous tendency to think that development of the sands is inevitable and that sands projects will be so profitable thai every conceivable Al- berta supplier of products and services will be able to cash in on Ihe developments." Mr. Spragins said the eco- nomics of oil sands production "seem destinated to remain marginal for some time bar- ring truly K t a g g e ri n g in- crease in world oil prices.' Extraction process tantalizingly close FORT McMURRAY, Alls. (CP) Researchers trying to get the tar-like oil out of northeastern Alberta's Atha- basca oil sands resemble the little boy wilh his hand in the cookie jar. The hand goers in to grah the goodies but it won't come out unless he lets go. Uke the cookies, the rich oil deposits are tnntalizingly close. But all that has been retrieved so far is a few The sands contain an esti- mated 62li-million bai'i-els of raw bitumen, of which 361! bil- lion are believed to be re- coverable. Processing would produce 267-billion barrels of synthetic crude oil, more than five times the estimated 46.3- billion barrels of conventional oil which constituted North America's total reserves at the end of 1071. Another 63-million barrels of synthetic crude is believed to be obtainable from eight other oil sand deposits in northern Alberta. But firs' the oil must be separated from the .sand. Problem The difficulty is in the na- ture of the bitumen, or raw nil. ft is so viscous, even when extracted from the sands, lhat al room temperature it will not flow from an water glass. Mixed wilh the sand, it has a consistency somewhere between asphalt and the oiled greens of Prai- rie golf courses. A hot-water flotation proc- ess is being employed with some success by Great Cana- dian Oil Sands Ltd. which appears to be on the verge of making a profit. But the method can be applied to only the 10 pre cent ol the sands area of square miles which has less than 200 feet of overburden and can be economically strip-mined. For the remainder, re- searchers are experimenting with in-situ methods which would permit the bitumen to be separated from the sand underground and pumped to the surface. Four basic in-situ methods have been proposed and they all aim to make the bitumen runny enough lo be pumped or to flow. None has readied the point of commercial although some are marked the success of the hot water flotation process. Mixed The late Dr. Karl Clark til Ihe Alberta Research Council developed the hot-water proc- ess. It requires the mixing of sand with steam and water to form n slurry which is pumped to separation cells. Much of the bitumen rises 10 the lop in a froth and is skimmed off while the washed sand falls to Ihe bottom and is pumped to the tailings pit. The middle region is treated in a secondary recovery unit. The concept is simple but the process requires elaborate controls and careful adjust- ment lo keep the recovery of 011 above the BO-pcr-cent level. The 10 per cenf that is left goes out with the tailings and causes a problem in the set- tling pond where it encour- ages fine clays to remain in suspension. When the water is recirculalcd, the effect is cu- mulative. M. A. Carrigy, senior re- search officer at the council, said the problem is being ap- (Conduiled on Page 44) ;