Heavy Oil Science Centre - Overburden

What's Heavy Oil?
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Science Principles

Heavy Oil is a type of crude oil which does not flow easily and contains foreign materials such as sulphur, nitrogen and metals.

Crude oil by itself is not very useful until it is refined.  The type of hydrocarbons that make up a crude determine what products can be produced from it.  While heavy oil does contain some light hydrocarbons and thus can yield gasoline and jet fuel, it is mostly heavier hydrocarbons.  A traditional use for these heavier residuals is something that Lloydminster is well known for: - the production of road oils and asphalt. Of course, now with the Lloydminster Upgrader, more of the impurities can be removed and the heavy crude can literally be transformed into something like conventional crude oil.   Because it is "manufactured", it is referred to as synthetic crude and it is the Upgrader's biggest product.


The American Petroleum Institute (API) devised a standard for measuring the density of a liquid.  This involves laboratory tests of the oil at standard temperature and pressure to determine its specific gravity.  This number is introduced as x in the following equation.

(141/x) - 131.5 = y° API

e.g. (141/.98) - 131.5 = 12.38° API

Heavy Oil in the Lloydminster area ranges between 9° and 18° API

Barrels & "Cubes"

IIn the old days (and still in the U.S.A.), the volume of oil was measured in "barrels"

What is a "barrel" of oil?
1 barrel = 0.158987 cubic meters
1 barrel = 34.99089 Imperial gallons
1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons
1 barrel = 158.987146 liters

Now-a-days, oil volumes are measured in cubic meters or "cubes" as they are referred to in the "oil patch"

1 cubic meter = 6.28994 barrels
1 cubic meter = 1,000 liters

The Price of Oil

We often hear or read news reports about the price of oil.  These are usually quotes of the price (in U.S. dollars) of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude.   To translate this into our terms requires more fun with figures.

e.g. Price quoted as $80.00 per barrel for WTI.  First we need to translate that into Canadian dollars.  80 times current exchange rate (say 1.05) = $84.00 CAN per barrel.  Then 1 barrel = 158.987146 liters; so $84.00 divided by 158.987146 = 0.5283 or about 53 cents CAN per liter for the crude oil. {Note, this would be $530.00 CAN per cube (cubic meter)}

Heavy crude, because it requires upgrading and more complex refining, typically sells at a sharp discount to WTI (over 50%). 

A controversial theory? Bacteria are ubiquitous in the subsurface to great depths and were probably present in the reservoir at the time of oil migration and trapping???????????????

Construct Your Own Heavy Oil Molecule

See the one I made!

model of heavy oil molecule (by Fosster Learning Inc.)

Now I just have to make more of these and join them together in layers like pages in a book and I'll really be making heavy oil!!

To build YOUR molecule, try to include at least one of every different element here
(heavy oil has lots of impurities)
Make your molecule as heavy as possible by using as many carbons and as few hydrogens as you can
(without breaking the rules of chemistry)

For more advanced students, obtain the computer program MoluCAD to build your own complex molecular models.


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