The Oil Sands Opportunity

Tar-sands, also known as oil sands, are sands that are saturated with bitumen, which is a highly viscous form of oil.

Extraction of oil from oil sands already represents a large-scale commercial undertaking globally, especially in the Athabasca region of Alberta, Canada. The following map shows major known oil sands deposits in the world, with the size of dot being illustrative of the relative size of the resource

Major Global Oil Sands Resources

Source: Proactive Research

The dot in the middle of the USA represents the Green River formation, which includes the Uinta basin.

The following UGS table summarises the biggest oil sands deposits identified in the Uinta Basin:

The following UGS map shows the location of these oil sands deposits within the Uinta basin:

The Greenfield Energy Project

In June 2020 TomCo established a joint venture company, Greenfield Energy, with Valkor, a global engineering procurement construction and installation specialist, to work on the development of a new process for oil sands separation.

Valkor will bring expertise from its experience working with Petroteq Energy, an oil sands specialist also based in Utah, which uses its own proprietary separation process. Valkor holds a licence to use the Petroteq process within the USA. Under the Greenfield JV TomCo and Valkor will apply this technology to establish a 10,000 bpd production facility once the technology has been fully validated and a suitable location for oil sands extraction has been identified.

The main method for separating oil from oil sands involves using large gravity separation tanks to produce diluted bitumen, which can then be sent for refining. Issues with this method of separation include 1) large capex requirement, 2) very large requirement for water, 3) dirty (oiled) sand to be disposed of, and 4) bitumen output that contains high levels of sulphur.

The Greenfield project aims to use an innovative separation technology that gets around some of the problems with the “traditional” process.

This process has a number of advantages over conventional oil sands separation techniques:

  • A modular, scalable extraction plant
  • Lower start-up capex
  • Lower water requirement
  • By-product of clean sand, requiring no expensive remediation
  • Output of sweet (low sulphur) heavy oil, potentially suitable for use as marine bunker fuel, with no further refining

The following diagram illustrates the Petroteq process.

Source: Petroteq

The steps in the process are numbered in the diagram, as follows:

  1. Tar sands ore is crushed
  2. Conveyance system to the feed bin which mixes ore with first phase solvent
  3. Further solvent added at the separation stage
  4. Oil and solvent mix is separated from sand
  5. Sand is put through a cleaning process, and residual oil and solvent recycled
  6. Sediment extraction from the oil and solvent
  7. Fluid is heated to separate the solvent from the oil
  8. Secondary extraction column prepares the fluid for solvent separation
  9. Evaporated solvent is recycled
  10. Heavy oil is ready for sale

This shows the process exactly as configured by Petroteq. The upgrade work that is to be carried out by Valkor at the test site will result in a new configuration.