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Extraction Techniques for Unconventional Oil

Unconventional oil includes shale oil, oil sands, light tight oil (LTO), and extra heavy oil. They’re classed as unconventional because of their complex extraction methods.

Unconventional oil cannot be extracted with traditional drilling techniques. Because they’re heavier, they don’t flow easily on their own. This necessitates the use of advanced extraction techniques, like oil sands mining and in situ development.

Key fact: Unconventional natural gas accounted for 87% of US natural gas production in 2019 and is expected to account for 92% by 2050

Oil sands mining involves removing large amounts of soil and earth, mixing it with water, and transporting it to refineries, where the heavy oil (a.k.a. bitumen) is separated.

In situ development uses horizontal drilling to reach deposits. Wells are drilled at 90° and run thousands of feet horizontally. This maximises production by allowing more of the wellbore to stay in contact with the oil reserve. Hydraulic fracturing is then carried out to stimulate the well and help the oil flow through the pipes.

These extraction methods are more expensive and time consuming than traditional techniques. But they’re also more flexible, and offer higher extraction rates.


  • Innovative drilling techniques

  • Increased production rate

  • More flexibility

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