The possibility of using the oil sands as a viable supplement to current energy resources is a notion that is becoming increasingly popular. When looking at the oil sands as a means for energy production it is important to consider how the region was discovered and the history behind the development of extracting and processing the resources from the oil sands. Did you know that the history of the oil sands dates back over 200 years when Europeans spotted bitumen along the banks of the Athabasca River?
Early History of the Oil Sands
In 1778 Peter Pond was among the first to discover the oil sands during his quest for harvesting Fur trees in the surrounding areas. A decade later, Alexander Mackenzie noted his observations on the oils sands. He documented bituminous fountains, and how the fluid state of the mixture could serve as a water sealant for canoes.
Many other explorers were also intrigued by the oil sand mixture. In 1875 the Canadian government started funding exploration of the oil sands, which led to several expeditions that confirmed the region of Northern Canada would produce great economic value when the time came to develop the expansive territory. It was obvious, even 200 years ago, that the oil sands could be a sound economic venture that opens new doors in energy resources and energy production.
Industrial Development of the Oil Sands
The first attempts to extract oil from bitumen were made under the assumption that there were large oil wells beneath the concentrations of bitumen. Between 1906 and 1917 two dozen wells were drilled in the hopes of striking it rich, but no such result occurred.
In 1913 came the first attempt to use a hot water flow to separate the oil sand mixture. The extracted material was shipped to various cities in Canada to be tested as a new way to pave roads; however, it could not compete with asphalt. Though oil sands were not as economical as asphalt, the groundwork for extracting and separating the oil sand mixture with hot fluid was seen as viable.
In 1920 entrepreneur R.C. Fitzsimmons opened the first bitumen processing plant, which used hot water flow to separate the bitumen to yield oil. Fitzsimmons had the right idea; however, the financial climate was not suitable for such a costly means of energy production. By the early 1950s the plant shut down.
By 1962 the government in Alberta realized the value of extracting and refining bitumen from the oil sands, not to replace conventional oil, but to supplement oil by using other types of energy. In 1967 Suncor opened the first oil sands production plant. Two years later Syncrude was approved for oil sands production. Syncrude started building a plant in 1973, and five years later their first barrel of oil was shipped. Production grew, and by 1998 Syncrude shipped their 1 billionth barrel of oil.
The oil sands continue to develop into one of the leading resources to supplement current oil production.
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