Oil Sands Process

Oil sand is a mixture of bitumen, sand and water. Because it does not flow like conventional crude oil, it must be mined or heated underground before it can be processed. Our oil sands business recovers bitumen through surface mining and steam injection technologies and upgrades it into refinery-ready crude oil products.

Suncor’s Upgrading operations process bitumen into higher-value synthetic crude oil and diesel fuel using two upgraders at its oil sands site in Fort McMurray. Suncor also operates upgrading assets at its Edmonton refinery.

Suncor produces bitumen in two ways:

  1. Surface mining. We use large trucks and shovels to extract the oil sands. Only 20% of all oil sands are close enough to the surface to be mined. The reclamation process begins as soon as mining operations are completed.
  2. In Situ. Using techniques that are similar to conventional oil production, we inject steam into the reservoir to heat the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.

Suncor extracts and upgrades bitumen using the following process:

  • Hot water is used to separate the bitumen from the sands. This step is called extraction and is not required for in situ bitumen.
  • Bitumen is heated and sent to drums where excess carbon (in the form of petroleum coke) is removed.
  • The superheated hydrocarbon vapours from the coke drums are sent to fractionators where vapour condenses into naphtha, kerosene and gas oil.
  • The end product is synthetic crude oil. It is shipped by underground pipelines to refineries across North America to be refined into jet fuels, gasoline and other petroleum products.