Oil Sands

It is estimated in Canada that the amount of economically recoverable oil in Canadian oil sands is of the order of 170 billion barrels, the second largest reserves in the world (to Saudi Arabia). There are also estimated to be about 32 billion barrels of oil in tar sands in the western U.S., mainly in Utah.

Oil Sands Oil Sands under Microscope
Oil Sands Oil Sands under Microscope

Because of the environmental impact associated with the extraction and upgrading, the oil derived from Canadian tar sands has been called “the world’s dirtiest oil”. This has led to significant opposition to a new pipeline (Keystone XL) that would bring diluted bitumen from Canada to the U.S. for upgrading. There is clearly a market for a cleaner, cheaper technology.

Heavy Oil

There are large deposits of heavy oil in about 30 countries, with the largest in Venezuela. There are also significant deposits in Canada’s heavy oil belt. Recovery of heavy oil has often involved expensive thermal methods such as steam injection, but a technique developed and now widely used in Canada, Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand (CHOPS), has significantly increased production. This technology involves the continuous production of sand, as much as 50%, along with oil, presenting separation and disposal problems.

Capturing oil or bitumen from drill cuttings and other wastes

Hydraulic fracturing in formations such as the Marcellus and Bakken shale has allowed the recent exploitation of gas and oil reserves that were previously inaccessible. There is now a large market associated with separating oil from drill cuttings – the sand, shale, or other minerals brought to the surface during drilling. Drill cuttings are usually contaminated with oil. Drill cuttings from the Marcellus shale, which from 2009 - November 2011 was produced from 3,986 wells in PA alone, are presently sent to engineered landfills at a cost up to $150/ton depending on oil content. A typical horizontal Marcellus shale well produces 300-1200 tons of cuttings (rocks). Each drilling site or pad can contain 8-12 wells. Some landfills are experiencing problems with compaction due to the high liquid content of the drill cuttings, as they are usually contaminated with oil, mostly from drilling muds.

Drill Cuttings

Oil being released from drill cuttings
Oil being release from drill cuttings

Ionic liquids (ILs) can be used to separate oil from contaminated cuttings. The recovered oil, which can be as much as 20% of the weight of the drill cuttings, can be recycled to drilling muds or used as a fuel, while the cleaned sand and soil can be used for land reclamation, soil amendments, landfill cover that is easily compacted, or as a starting material in making a value added product, proppants.

IL Fuels has successfully separated oil from minerals and glass in materials such as oily wastes from Stream Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) operations, used roof shingles and waste materials from Canadian tailing ponds.

Marketing Areas

U.S. Tar Sands Distribution