Mining for Bitumen
About 20% of Alberta's total bitumen reserves are close enough to the surface to be mined. The cut-off depth is technically 70 to 75 meters below the surface, although most mines operate at a depth of less than 50 meters. All oil sands mines are located within the Athabasca Basin, just north of Fort McMurray.
Although exact circuit configurations vary among the operations, a typical oil sands mining facility consists of the following unit operations:
- an open-pit (or surface) mine
- a bitumen production circuit where the bitumen is separated from the solids and water
- a tailings storage facility or pond, where solids are stored and process water is recovered
- a tank farm, which holds the required inventories of product and diluent, and
- a utilities plant, which supplies steam, power and water to the facility.
FROM DIRT TO DILBIT: PROCESS OVERVIEWOnce the mined oil sands is hauled to the processing plant, bitumen is separated from solids and water within the Bitumen Production facility, which consists of 3 basic steps:
- Ore Preparation: Hot/warm water is added to the oil sands producing a slurry that can be pumped to the processing plant.
- Bitumen Extraction: Bitumen is gravity separated from the coarse solids (mostly silica sand) producing an intermediate bitumen froth product.
- Froth Treatment: Solvent or diluent is added to the bitumen froth, reducing the bitumen viscosity and allowing for removal of remaining water and fine solids.
BITUMEN PRODUCTION EXPLAINED
ACTIVE OIL SANDS MINING PROJECTSAll mine sites are located in the Athabasca Basin, just north of Fort McMurray. The mines strattle both sides of the Athabasca River, where the oil sands deposit is relatively close to the surface. There are currently 9 active oil sands mining operations in Alberta, 8 are in operation and 1 under construction.
CANADIAN NATURAL RESOURCES LTD.
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