Jack R. Century, 2010. "Tar Sands: Key Geologic Risks and Opportunities", Heavy Oils: Reservoir Characterization and Production Monitoring, Satinder Chopra, Laurence R. Lines, Douglas R. Schmitt, Michael L. Batzle
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As the price of oil rises and as conventional hydrocarbon resources become scarcer, increased exploration and production activity is occurring in heavy-oil, tar-sands, and bitumen deposits. Although these contribute significantly to the global energy budget, they also contribute a greater share to the global carbon budget and to the detriment of the global environment. The balancing act between economics and environmental concerns is demonstrated on a grand scale in the evaluation of these geologic deposits. This chapter is intended to present the concerns relating to the “carbon footprint” of the development of these deposits in northern Alberta, Canada (referred to hereafter as “tar sands” for brevity) and to outline opportunities for more balanced tar-sands development by improved integration of geoscience and engineering disciplines.
Although the emphasis in this chapter is the Athabasca, Peace River, and Cold Lake districts, the concerns about these deposits are global in nature. Tar sands occur in as many as 70 countries, including Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, Trinidad, the United States, Romania, Albania, Madagascar, the former Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, and China. Because of declining production of conventional, light, and medium oil, the world is depending on oil supplied from bitumen and heavy oil much faster than had been previously thought.
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Heavy oil is an important global resource with reserves comparable to those of conventional oil. As conventional resources get thinner, attention is being focused on heavy oil and bitumen, which hold the promise of becoming useful fuels. Already more than 1 million barrels of oil are being produced from the oil sands in Canada; heavy oil represents half of California’s crude oil production in the United States and is a major production in Mexico. With demand for global energy soaring, heavy oil will undoubtedly be an important resource to be exploited in a big way in the near future.
The SEG Development and Production Committee held its Heavy Oil Forum in Edmonton, Alberta, in July 2007. This was a joint research forum cosponsored by the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG) and SEG and hosted by the University of Alberta. Preceding the forum, a field trip took the participants to the vast Athabasca Oil Sands region where they observed the outcrops, open pit mining, and steam injection operations, followed by a tour of the steam-assisted gravity drainage projects. Topics of the well-attended forum included the definition of heavy oil; where is heavy oil found; how it is produced; heavy-oil reservoir characterization; fluid and rock properties; electrical, tilt, and gravity techniques; borehole, surface seismic measurements; and microseismicity.