Oil Sands: Overview of Environmental Law for Alberta, Canada

Dec 11th, 2011 | By | Category: Environmental Management

Canadian law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP has issued a summary of environmental law that applies to projects in the Alberta, Canada oil sands in western Canada.

Description of the Alberta Oil Sands

According to the Overview of Environmental Regulatory Regime Related to Alberta Oil Sands Activities,

Oil sands are composed primarily of sand, bitumen, mineral-rich clays and water. Bitumen, in its raw state, is a heavy, viscous, crude oil. According to the Alberta government, Alberta’s oil sands have 170.4 billion barrels of proven reversible reserves. These reserves are the second-highest source of proven crude oil reserves in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia.

Approximately 20% of the potentially recoverable bitumen is shallow enough to be mined, leaving approximately 80% of the resource to be exploited using in-situ techniques. The in-situ techniques currently in use employ steam to heat the bitumen, allowing it to flow into a well and transported to the surface. The two most common methods of in-situ production are cyclic steam stimulation (CCS) and steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). The steam used in both processes is normally generated using natural gas, and natural gas is the primary input cost of both methods.

Bitumen is currently sold in two principal forms: either as a bitumen blend, in which the bitumen is mixed with a diluent (a very light hydrocarbon liquid, the density and viscosity of which is lower than bitumen) so that it will flow in pipelines; or, after upgrading, as a synthetic crude oil. Bitumen blend has many characteristics similar to conventional heavy oil. Synthetic crude oil, depending on the level of upgrading it has undergone, has many characteristics similar to conventional medium or light oil.


More Information

Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP is an international law firm with more than 550 lawyers in offices in Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, London, Bahrain, and Beijing and with associated offices in Al-Khobar and Shanghai. Members of Blake’s environmental group work closely with the firm’s business, financial services, real estate, municipal and planning, and restructuring and insolvency groups to provide a full range of environmental services encompassing contaminated sites, environmental assessments and approvals, waste management and disposal, corporate and commercial due diligence, and litigations, prosecutions, and hearings. Click here for more information on the firm’s environmental excellence initiatives.

Photograph: Colorful Abstract Background by Nimalan Tharmalingam, London, U.K.

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