New Method Makes Tar Sands Removal Cheaper and Cleaner, Group Says

A Canadian consortium says it has developed technology that could double the amount of oil that can be extracted from Alberta’s abundant tar sands and cut greenhouse gas emissions associated with the process by 85 percent. Existing technologies to extract and process the sludgy bituminous material from tar sands deposits use chemicals and intense heat and require enormous amounts of energy. The Alberta-based consortium, N-Solv, says it has introduced a system that uses a solvent, such as propane, instead of steam. According to the group, the solvent can be heated to relatively low temperatures and injected into the tarry deposits, breaking down the bitumen, and allowing it to be pumped out with the solvent, which can then be reused. They say the process will require less energy, slash CO2 emissions, and deliver a crude requiring less refining. Also, they say, the lower costs will make it economically feasible to extract more than twice as much oil from the oil sands. The researchers received $10 million from the Canadian government to develop a cleaner method of extracting oil from the vast Alberta reserves, which are by far the largest petroleum deposit in North America.