Aggregate: A mixture of various sized stones, crushed rock, and sand used in making asphalt or concrete.
API gravity: American Petroleum Institute gravity. A measure of how light or heavy an oil is, compared with water. If oil has an API gravity greater than 10°, it will float on water. If its API gravity is less than 10°, it will sink. The API of light crude is typically from 35° to 40°, while heavy oil is from 9° to 11° API. Bitumen has an API gravity of from 8° to 14°.
Barrel: The traditional measurement for crude oil volumes. One barrel equals 42 US gallons (159 litres). There are 6.29 barrels in one cubic metre of oil.
Bitumen: A naturally occurring hydrocarbon that is so thick and viscous (like molasses) that it will not flow at room temperature. Bitumen extracted from Alberta’s oil sands typically has an API gravity of 8° to 14°. Bitumen typically makes up about 10 percent by weight of oil sands, but saturation varies.
Bucket-wheel excavator: A mining machine that uses toothed buckets mounted on the rim of a revolving wheel to scoop up oil sand and deposit it on a conveyor system.
Catalyst: A substance that plays a role in a chemical reaction, but is not itself altered by the reaction.
Coke: A solid, black hydrocarbon that is left as a residue after the more valuable hydrocarbons have been removed from bitumen by heating it to high temperatures.
Coking: An upgrading/refining process used to convert the heaviest fraction of bitumen into lighter hydrocarbons by removing carbon as coke.
Condensate: A mixture of extremely light hydrocarbons recoverable from gas reservoirs. Condensate is also referred to as a natural gas liquid and is used as a diluent to reduce bitumen viscosity for pipeline transportation.
Consortium: An association typically of companies and/or financers that pool their resources in order to accomplish a goal that is beyond the means of any one of the individual members and to distribute the risk amongst all members.
Consumer Price Index (CPI): An indicator of changes in the cost of goods and services for the typical customer.
Conventional crude oil: Naturally occurring hydrocarbons in liquid form that are capable of being pumped from an underground reservoir without processing or dilution. Crude oil is categorized as being light, medium or heavy according to its API gravity. Heavy oil is harder to extract and more expensive to refine than light crude oil because it is dense and viscous and so requires heat or dilution to flow through a pipeline.
Cracking: A process for breaking or “cracking” large, complex hydrocarbon molecules into smaller, simpler, more useful and valuable hydrocarbon molecules.
Crown corporation: A semi-independent company or agency of the federal or provincial government organized as a corporation to benefit Canada’s national interest.
Diluents: Light petroleum liquids used to dilute bitumen and heavy oil so they flow through pipelines. Historicaly, naphtha was used.
Dragline: A mining machine that drops a large, heavy, toothed bucket on a cable from the end of a boom into the oil sands, then drags the bucket through the deposit, scooping up the sands.
Effluent: Liquid waste.
Emission: A mixture of gaseous elements released into the air (by processing equipment and plants).
Extraction: Any process that separates bitumen from oil sands, typically using hot water or steam and sometimes chemical agents such as caustic soda.
Fraction: One of several constituent hydrocarbons that together form crude oil and that can be separated from each other by distillation. For example, naptha is a very light fraction, while asphaltenes are very heavy.
Froth: A layer of bubbles that forms on top of a liquid when it is heated or agitated.
Froth treatment: A technique to recover bitumen from the “froth” composed of a mixture of water, bitumen, and solids that is produced by the hot water extraction method, typically used in mining-based recovery.
Hydrocarbons: A large class of gaseous, liquid or solid organic compounds that are comprised of only hydrogen and carbon molecules and are the basis of almost all petroleum products.
Hydrocracking: A refining process using hydrogen, high temperatures, high pressure and a catalyst to reduce heavy hydrocarbons into lighter fractions.
Hydrotransport: A method that transports oil sands to an extraction plant through a pipeline as a slurry rather than on a conveyor belt as a solid.
In situ: A Latin term meaning “in the original location or position.” Methods for extracting bitumen from deposits too deep below the ground to surface mine are referred to as in situ. The primary methods used today are the thermal techniques of Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD). Toe-to-Heel Air Injection (THAI), Vapor Extraction Process (VAPEX) and Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand (CHOPS) are additional techniques that are productive in some circumstances.
Lease: A legal document giving an operator the right to extract bitumen from oil sands existing within a specified lease area. The land must be reclaimed and returned to the Crown at the end of operations.
Muskeg: A boggy type of soil found in the boreal forest. Muskeg can be up to three meters thick and is composed of decaying plants, peat, moss and water. It is found atop the overburden, which lies over the oil sands.
Naphtha: A flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture that is derived from bitumen and used as a solvent and diluent.
Oil sands: A naturally occurring mixture of sand, clay, silt, rocks, other minerals and bitumen, also known as tar sands or bituminous sands. If the oil sands deposits are close to the surface, bitumen can be recovered from the oil sands by open-pit mining and hot-water processing methods. Deeper deposits require in situ methods. Alberta’s oil sands are found mainly in three areas–Athabasca, Peace River and Cold Lake.
Overburden: The rock, clay, sand, soil and muskeg that lies on top of an oil sands deposit and is removed to allow it to be mined.
Process gas: Gas produced from the upgrading process that is not distilled as a liquid. It is usually burned as a fuel.
Reserves: The recoverable portion of resources available for use based on current knowledge, technology and economics.
Royalty: The price charged by the energy resource owner for the right to develop those resources.
Scow: A large, flat-bottomed, rectangular boat used primarily for transporting bulk goods.
Synthetic crude oil: A manufactured crude oil produced by upgrading bitumen extracted from oil sands.
Thermal recovery: Any process by which thermal energy, or heat energy, is used to reduce the viscosity of bitumen in situ in order to facilitate its recovery.
Truck-and-shovel mining: A method in which large electric or hydraulic shovels are used to remove the oil sand and load it on very large trucks. The trucks haul the oil sand to dump pockets where it is conveyed to the extraction plant as a solid or mixed with water and hydrotransported. Trucks and shovels are more economical to operate than the bucket-wheel reclaimers and draglines they have replaced.
Upgrading: The process of converting bitumen extracted from oil sands into lighter synthetic crude oil. The term “synthetic crude oil” is used interchangeably with “upgraded crude oil.”
Viscosity: A description of how easily a liquid will flow. Internal friction between the molecules in a liquid causes it to resist changing its shape. The more complex the molecules, the greater the resistance, the higher the viscosity of the liquid, and the less likely it is to flow easily. The lower the viscosity, the more easily the liquid will flow.