For oil sands that are too deep for surface mining operations, some form of "in-situ" is needed to extract the oil. Most in-situ operations involve the injection of steam into the oil sands deep underground.
The steam warms the bitumen, making it more mobile, so that it can then be extracted through drilling.
Some sources say 20 per cent of this area will be mined versus 80 per cent being developed in situ. (The Alberta government disagrees, telling The Tyee the number is more like 2.5 per cent mining and 97.5 per cent in situ.) _TheTyee
... the number of in situ or thermal projects continued to multiply as foreign investors lined up to inject dollars. _CalgaryHerald
There are several approaches to mining oil sands. Not all oil sands projects are equally economical to construct. Some of the most economical approaches involve in situ extraction of bitumen from the sands.
Ten years ago, big mining projects were the only game in town - now there are choices not only between mining and in situ but sophisticated money is also seeking out the projects with the best reservoir quality.
What they are finding is that in situ technologies, through which 80 per cent of the oil sands will be accessed, are gaining an economic advantage.
Capital intensity, for example, at Imperial Oil's under-construction Kearl mine project is about $70,000 per flowing barrel - it'll cost about $8 billion for a project expected to produce 110,000 barrels of bitumen per day.
Suncor has said its oilsands mines will cost around $60,000 per barrel to build while its multiple Firebag thermal in situ projects will come in for between $30,000 and $35,000 per barrel.
"People like Cenovus are saying that, in some cases, they can add in situ capacity at about $20,000 per daily barrel," Dunbar said. _Calgary Herald
As technologies improve and become cleaner and more economical, expect Canadian oil sands production to grow exponentially. A giant new pipeline going all the way to the Gulf of Mexico should speed up the process, once completed and running.
Just as North American shale gas technology has revolutionised the energy industry, so will Canadian oil sands technology.
Other unconventional forms of hydrocarbons will also likely step in to provide liquid and gaseous fuels, as needed. There are trillions of barrels of oil equivalent in known unconventional reserves around the world, with variable accessibility. Many trillions more barrels are undoubtedly sitting around, unsuspected, waiting for better technologies of exploration and production.
By. Al Fin