Overview of Oil Sand Geology

CIM Montreal 2003
Abstract Canada's energy future will increasingly depend on a supply of light, sweet
crude oil derived from the Athabasca oil sands deposit of northeastern
Alberta. Billions of dollars are being spent on the construction of new and
expanded mine and bitumen extraction plants, in situ recovery facilities,
pipelines, upgrading installations and all the infrastructure needed to
support these projects. The success of the existing operators has also
inspired new players, anxious for "a piece of the action" to come forward
with exciting project proposals of their own.

None of this investment and spin-off economic activity would be taking place
today if events had unfolded differently in this part of the world some one
hundred million years ago. The accumulation of sand in rivers, estuaries
and in the near-shore marine environment created the great reservoirs that
host the enormous oil deposits these projects are designed to exploit.

Mine operators of all stripes will likely agree that there are few good
"geological surprises". With specific reference to oil sand deposits, the
geological history determines the distribution of sand, silt and clay
bodies, which in turn controls the ore grade. Important design factors
including everything from stable pit slope angles to tailings properties
reflects events that took place millions of years before. An understanding
of the sequence of events that resulted in deposition and preservation of
the sediment and oil are important to sound design for both mining and in
situ facilities.

A geological history of the region is described. Site-specific examples
from Syncrude's operating mines are used to illustrate some of the
geological factors that can present design challenges.
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