Oil sands

We were the first company to commercially develop the oil sands in northern Alberta, creating an industry that is now a key contributor to Canada’s prosperity.

Oil sands at a glance

~600 mboe/d

The heavy upgrading nameplate capacity of our high-margin barrels.

As a major holder in the oil sands, Suncor will continue to deliver safe, reliable energy while focusing on growth, technical innovation and environmental sustainability.

Oil sands process and production

Oil sand is a mixture of bitumen, sand, clay and water. Because it does not flow like conventional crude oil which is a liquid, it must be mined or heated underground before it can be processed.

Once the bitumen has been extracted, we upgrade it into higher-value synthetic crude oil, diesel fuel and other products.

Suncor extracts bitumen in two ways: mining and in situ.


About 20% of Canada’s oil sands is close enough to the surface to be mined. Suncor uses large trucks and shovels to extract the oil sands that are near the surface (approx. 130-200 ft deep).

  • Hot water is used to separate the bitumen from the sand. This step is called extraction. Bitumen is heated and sent to drums where excess carbon (in the form of petroleum coke) is removed.
  • Vapours from the coke drums are sent to fractionators where they condense into naphtha, kerosene and gas oil.
  • The end product is synthetic crude oil, which is shipped to refineries across North America to be further refined into jet fuels, gasoline and other petroleum products.

Our surface mining operations

Suncor owned and operated:

Suncor-operated joint venture:

  • Syncrude
    • Mildred Lake
    • Aurora North
    • Mildred Lake Extension (MLX) (proposed)

In situ

Approximately 80% of Canada’s oil sands are too deep to mine using the truck and shovel technique and must be tapped using in situ production, a three-part process to drill, inject steam and extract bitumen to the surface.

The steam-assisted gravity drainage process

In situ diagram

Number 1

The top horizontal well reaches the oil sands ore and injects steam to heat the reservoir.

Number 2

The bitumen is separated by the heat, so, using gravity, it can flow as a liquid into the lower well.

Number 3

The bitumen travels along the lower well where it is collected and piped to upgrading facilities.

Our SAGD in situ operations

  • Firebag
  • MacKay River
  • Lewis (proposed)

Do you want to learn about Suncor’s Oil Sands and In Situ operations? This step-by-step tour video will take you behind the scenes to find out about our mining and steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) processes.