Edition 1 – 2003

From the NRG Expert Historical Energy Data Series

Although natural bitumen and extra-heavy oil are worldwide in occurrence, a single extraordinary deposit in each category is dominant and these are sometimes called the Fourth Fossil Fuel.

  • The Alberta, Canada natural bitumen deposits comprise at least 85% of the world total bitumen in place but are so concentrated as to be virtually the only such deposits that are economically recoverable for conversion to oil. The deposits amount to about 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen in place. These are known as the Oil Sands of Canada. A synthetic crude oil is manufactured from the Canadian bitumen.
  • Similarly, the 1.2 trillion barrels of extra-heavy crude oil deposit of the Orinoco Oil Belt, a part of the Eastern Venezuela basin, represent nearly 90% of the known extra-heavy oil in place. Orimulsion is an emulsion made from this bitumen.
  • Between them, these two deposits represent about 2.9 trillion barrels of oil in place. This is only the remaining, degraded remnant of petroleum deposits once totalling as much as 18 trillion barrels.

Minor amounts of bitumen are produced for road material and plastic, as from the Trinidad Pitch Lake.

Essentially, however, natural asphalt as a source of synthetic oil is the domain of the Alberta oils sands.

Together with the Venezuela deposits of bitumen the importance of these two resources can hardly be understated.

The Canadian bitumen has not received the prominence of Venezuelan Orimulsion but it will exceed it in volume as marketing momentum grows.

Orimulsion has been described as the fourth fossil fuel. It is loosely described as a bitumen-water emulsion (more correctly extra-heavy oil-water emulsion), consisting of 70% bitumen, a naturally occurring heavy petroleum material from the Orinoco region of Venezuela, 30% water and a small amount of surfactant. It was first used commercially in 1991 at two plants in the UK and one in Japan.

Currently 3,866 MW of plant capacity has been adapted for use with Orimulsion, in UK, Canada, Italy, Japan and Lithuania. A plant is being converted in Singapore now.


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