The oil sands

Canada is fortunate to have the oil sands – an oil resource with enough oil to meet the country's current energy demand for generations. However, unlike conventional oil, which has been produced for more than 150 years, the oil sands have only been produced for about 50 years. That’s because the oil in the oil sands is really thick and embedded in sand, so it’s taken a lot of ingenuity and perseverance to figure out how to access it.

There are two ways to access the oil

  • Mining: the process used when the oil is close to the surface. About 20 percent of the oil in the oil sands is close enough to the surface that it has to be mined. Companies have been mining in the oil sands for about 50 years.
  • Drilling: the process used when the oil is deep under the ground. About 80 percent of the oil in the oil sands is so deep underground that it has to be drilled and pumped to the surface using specialized technology like steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD, pronounced SAG-DEE) or cyclic steam stimulation (CSS). Drilling in the oil sands has only been commercially viable for about 25 years, with CSS technology having been used since 1985, and SAGD having been used for about a decade.

Cenovus has no mining or CSS projects. The oil on all of our approximately 1.5 million net acres of land leases in the oil sands (includes 0.5 million net acres that we have exclusive rights to lease) is deep underground. We use SAGD, a low-pressure, constant-steam technology, to drill and pump the oil to the surface.

A full 79 percent of the world's known oil reserves are state-owned or state-controlled. Only 21 percent are openly accessible to international oil companies. Of that 21 percent, over half are in Canada's oil sands.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration