Using the traditional method of calculation of conventional oil reserves, the world total is 1,333 billion barrels, of which 56.6% are situated in the Middle East, 14.9% in Latin America, 10.3% in Europe and Central Asia, 5.5% in North America, 9.6% in Africa and 3.2% in Asia Pacific. If oil sands are included, on a country by country basis, Saudi has the most reserves measured at 265 billion barrels at the end of 2009, then Canada at 176 billion barrels and Venezuela at 172 billion barrels. Canadian oil reserves are estimated as 143 billion barrels, which is more than the total oil reserves of fourth placed Iran (138 billion barrels) and fifth placed Iraq (115 billion barrels).
The National Energy Board (NEB) distinguishes between two types of non-conventional oil obtained from deposits of Canadian oil sands.
Bitumen (also known as crude bitumen) – ‘a highly viscous mixture, mainly of hydrocarbons heavier than pentanes. In its natural state, it is not usually recoverable at a commercial rate through a well’.
Upgraded Crude Oil (also known as synthetic crude) – ‘a mixture of hydrocarbons similar to light crude oil derived by upgrading oil sands bitumen’.
Canada’s ‘discovered recoverable resources’ of oil sands bitumen are quoted by the NEB as 49 billion m3 (over 300 billion barrels). Of the remainder (shown as ‘proved amount in place’ in the table above), 9,650 million m3 (9 billion tonnes) consists of synthetic crude recoverable through mining projects and 38,850 million m3 (36.3 billion tonnes) consists of crude bitumen recoverable through in-situ extraction.
Within these huge resources, the ‘remaining established reserves’ at end-2009 (shown as ‘proved recoverable reserves’ above) have been assessed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) as 8,871 million barrels of mining-integrated synthetic crude oil and 4,706 million barrels of in-situ bitumen.
Bitumen deposits are located in Lower Cretaceous sandstones and in carbonates overlaid by Lower Cretaceous sandstones. The major deposits are in three geographic and geologic regions of Alberta; Athabasca, Cold Lake and Peace River, covering a 140,200 km2 area (14 million hectares). Of which only 0.3% is producing bitumen. Reserves are expected to extend over the border into the neighbouring Saskatchewan province. One oil company, Oil Sands Quest, estimates there could be the region of 50 to 60 billion barrels of bitumen located there.
Very little extra-heavy oil is located in the reserves and is of little economic value.