Canadian and US Oil Sands Patents
OIL SANDS PATENTS
The oil sands deposits in Alberta are the third largest in the world trailing only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. It is estimated that the oil sands in Alberta constitute hundreds of billions of barrels of oil that can be economically extracted. Canada is also the largest supplier of oil to the United States. In addition, oil sands revenues also represent a significant part of Canada's gross domestic product. As a result is unlikely that any curtailment or reduction of the projected growth of oil sands production will occur. Rather the current level of production of approximately 1.7 million barrels a day of oil produced from the oil sands will increase to 3 to 4 million barrels per day or larger within the next 5 to 10 years. As a result SASOR reasons that nuclear energy technologies will eventually be used in oil sands production.
SASOR's management recognized early on that the issues associated with greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions would eventually become problematic for the oil sands production industry. Such concerns have only increased over the past several years. For instance the European Union is deciding whether there should be a ban on importation of oil produced from oil sands because of the GHG footprint. Further, the controversy over the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the recent regulations in the state of California have added additional weight to the arguments concerning the GHG emissions arising from oil sands production.
The majority of oil sand deposits lie beneath a deep overburden making conventional surface mining uneconomic. In situ methods are being employed and developed. All of the in situ methods require large quantities of heat or electricity or both to allow in situ bitumen to flow. Energy produced by a nuclear reactor produces no GHG emissions. In contrast the fuel currently used in oil sands production is natural gas which does produce the additional GHG emissions that are plaguing the oil sands production industry. In addition the new reactor types that are available have passive safety features that require no reactor operator intervention in the case of a problem in the reactor’s operation. Instead the reactor is cooled by passive air or water systems and automatically shut down eliminating the need for operator intervention. SASOR believes that the oil sands production industry will lose their social contract o continue to emit GHG and will embrace the use of nuclear reactors as a means to lower the GHG emissions from oil sands production. Nuclear energy sources would lower the GHG emissions to those of conventional oil production.
In Alberta, Canada where most oil sands production is occurring elements of the industry and government have evidenced increasing concern about additional GHG emissions that are attendant upon oil ultimately derived from oil sands that may not be attendant upon other forms of conventional oil production. The use of lifecycle calculations to determine the intensity of GHG emissions from various types of oil production has exacerbated this problem. The use of nuclear energy technology to generate the thermal and electrical energy needed to produce oil from oil sands would eliminate the GHG emissions that come from the use of natural gas to produce the thermal energy needed.