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In Situ Methods of Bitumen Extraction

In situ methods of bitumen extraction are used when oil sands deposits are more than 75 metres below the surface. In a nutshell, in situ extraction involves injecting wells with steam to reduce the viscosity of the bitumen, allowing it to flow more easily.

More specifically, there are two common methods of in situ bitumen extraction: Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) and Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS).

Key fact: In Alberta, Canada, 80% of oil sands are located in deep underground deposits

SAGD requires the drilling of two wells (an injection and producing well) spaced five metres apart. Steam is introduced into the injection well so that the bitumen can heat up and liquefy. This allows it to flow into the producing well, where it can be pumped to the surface.

CSS is a lengthier process. With this method, a single well is drilled and injected with steam, which is then kept under high pressure for several months. During this time, the steam soaks through the oil sands and melts the bitumen. The mixture of bitumen and steam is then pumped to the surface through the same well.


  • SAGD produces less tailings

  • SAGD requires less water

  • CSS requires less capital investment

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