The Syncrude operations are located on the Athabasca Oil Sands Deposit in northeastern Alberta, Canada.
Oil sand is composed of sand, bitumen, mineral rich clays and water. Bitumen, in its raw state, is a black, asphalt-like oil — as thick as molasses. It requires upgrading to make it transportable by pipeline and usable by conventional refineries. The upgraded bitumen product consists of naphtha, light and heavy gas oils that are combined to produce a light, sweet crude oil that we call Syncrude Sweet Blend.
Water makes up about 4% of the oil sand by weight. It surrounds each grain of sand, keeping it separate from the oil. Without this water envelope, the oil and the sand could not be separated by the water-based extraction methods we now use.
According to the Government of Alberta, the province's oil sand deposits contain proven reserves of approximately 170 billion barrels of bitumen. Alberta has the third largest proven oil reserves in the world.
Oil sand is visible on the banks of the Athabasca River, north and south of Fort McMurray, but most of the oil sand in the area lies buried 50 metres or deeper under muskeg and overburden.
The origin of the oil is a controversial subject among geologists, but the predominant theory is that it evolved in highly organic Cretaceous shales in the southern portion of the Alberta Sedimentary Basin. Underground pressure forced the oil to soak into the existing silt grade sediments and localized sand bodies of the McMurray formation.