Conventional crude oil and oil sands

Conventional Oil

Conventional oil is a mixture of mainly pentanes and heavier hydrocarbons recoverable at a well from an underground reservoir and liquid at atmospheric pressure and temperature. Unlike bitumen, conventional oil flows through a well without stimulation and through a pipeline without processing or dilution. 

Alberta’s oil industry began producing conventional oil in 1914 at the Turner Valley field before the major discovery of Leduc Woodbend in 1947.  In Alberta, conventional oil includes light, medium and heavy crude oils.

Conventional Oil Extraction & Uses

A major focus of Alberta's oil industry is on finding innovative, more efficient ways to extract a higher percentage of oil from conventional reservoirs. Alberta’s conventional oil supplies are exported to North American markets as well as processed into value-added products at Alberta’s refineries.

Oil refinery

Oil Sands

The oil sands are a thick, viscous mixture of bitumen hydrocarbons combined with water, sand, heavy metals and clay. The bitumen is separated from the oil sands through heating processes and is then upgraded into higher valued products for end-use markets. Alberta’s oil sands industry began commercial operations in 1967 with the startup of the Great Canadian Oil Sands (Suncor) later followed by Syncrude in 1978. Today more than 40 companies operate in the oil sands.

Alberta's Major Oil Sands Deposits

Alberta's three major oil sands deposits cover over 140,200 square kilometres. The oil sands are reported to contain 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen in place with over 168 billion barrels that can be produced under current economics and commercial technologies.

Alberta's largest deposit is the Athabasca oil sands deposit with an estimated 1.3 trillion barrels of bitumen in place followed by Cold Lake's 200 billion barrels of bitumen deposit; the third major deposit is the Peace River oil sands with around 130 billion barrels in place.

For more information on conventional oil or oil sands, see:

  • Alberta Department of Energy : Provincial government department that oversees energy resource development and use in Alberta. The Alberta Energy website has detailed information on Alberta's diverse natural energy resources.
  • Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat (OSS) : The Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat was created by the Government of Alberta in the summer of 2007 to address rapid growth issues in the oil sands regions of Alberta.
  • Oil Sands Developers Group (OSDG) : OSDG is an association of oil sands developers and related stakeholders interested in shared development issues related to the Wood Buffalo region of the oil sands.
  • Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP): CAPP is an industry association focused on fostering sustainable and responsible economic growth in the Canadian upstream petroleum industry, and has background information on crude oil and oil sands development in Alberta.
  • Canadian Heavy Oil Association (CHOA) : The CHOA is an educational, technical and social forum for heavy oil and oil sands industry employees and associates.

For more information on Alberta’s energy resources, see: