Two industry technicians have developed a new set of valves specifically designed to be used in the production of bitumen from oil sands deposits. Current mining techniques are only able to recover about 20% of the bitumen that is buried in the Athabasca Oil Sands. This restriction is based upon mining techniques that can only recover the product that is mineable (up to 150 feet or so below the surface).
Most of the bitumen is much deeper than this 150 foot plateau. Currently, almost 40% of Oil Sands production is being done using in situ, steam injection. Two wells are drilled side by side into the formation. The first well is used to inject steam into the bitumen. This warms the oily sand and makes it “pumpable” from the second well. There are still technical and logistical issues to be overcome with this design but this extraction technique will eventually account for well over 90% of oil sands production.
The primary obstacle to surmount with this extraction process is that the oily sand is very abrasive and current pump technology does not withstand this abrasiveness well. Existing pumps wear out in a few weeks and the costs to take them out, overhaul them and/or replace them are prohibitive. The new design created by the Inventors, uses a radically different approach. The moving parts within the new pumps do not come in contact with the abrasive, oily sand and therefore have greatly reduced abrading problems.
This new pump technology could revolutionize the next generation of oil sands development. When this type of production method substantially replaces strip mining, it will eliminate many of the environmental issues that the current mining procedures create. This would make production of this vital resource, much more acceptable to those opposing oil sands development.