Alberta's Bitumen Carbonate Reservoirs
by Franklin L. Foster, Ph.D.
It is well known that conventional oil reserves are in decline and that the remaining petroleum assets will be more difficult to recover. Less well known is that these assets are not all locked away in the "tar sands". While the Fort McMurray deposits, and the technologies used to recover them, have received enormous publicity, there are several other non-conventional places where huge oil reserves are deposited. One of these is bitumen carbonate.
According to estimates, more than 1/4 of Alberta's bitumen (or more than 70 billion cubic meters) is in carbonate reservoirs. Currently there is no commercially viable way to recover these reserves. However, many of the technologies being used to recover, or enhance recovery of heavy oil, may apply to bitumen carbonates. Among the many problems are extremely high viscosity ( 5° - 9° API) and such geologic problems as karsification.
However, since the potential petroleum reserves are enormous, increased industry and governmental support for research to surmount the challenges of recovering petroleum assets from bitumen carbonates may be not only worthwhile but vital to our energy needs.