The Canadian oil sands (COS) a.k.a. “tar sands” represent the world’s largest heavy oil reserves, and combined with its conventional oil resources, Canada is second only to Venezuela worldwide. Only 12% of these reserves are recoverable with today’s technologies, which, at present production of 1.2 million barrels a day, is enough for 600 years.

Heavy oil is what is left of crude oil (a natural mixture made mostly of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights) when the lighter components are naturally removed. It appears as semi-solid bitumen (a Latin word possibly of Celtic origin; the Greek equivalent is asphaltos) and is found tightly adhering to the surface of quartz grains in sands, hence the name “oil sands”. The natural removal of lighter components is believed to happen through bacterial activity, water, air, or a combination of them.

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