Oil Sands Today



What are oil sands?

Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen. Bitumen is oil that is too heavy or thick to flow or be pumped without being diluted or heated. At 10°C/50°F, bitumen is hard as a hockey puck. Some bitumen is found between the surface and 70 metres (200 feet) underground, but the majority is much deeper. 

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Markets and Transportation

Canadian crude oil producers continue to build new markets for their expanding production. New market opportunities include Eastern Canada, the U.S. and growing economies in Asia. Diversifying markets for Canadian oil production is vital to ensure Canada receives full value for its natural resources.

  • Each year, approximately 580 million barrels of oil are safely transported along Canada’s East and West coasts via tanker. Source: Transport Canada 2012
  • At present, fewer than 500 oil tankers transit along Canada’s West coast each year. While most West coast oil tankers are U.S.-bound, about 200 call on Port Metro Vancouver. There hasn’t been a tanker issue in the Port of Vancouver for 50 years. Source: IHS CERA 2013
  • All oil tankers using Port Metro Vancouver are subject to the same international agreements, rules and strict national and port authority standards. Source: IHS CERA 2013
  • All tankers calling on Canadian ports are subject to internationally agreed standards of operation and construction as well as strict national and port authority standards including: Specific crew training requirements for vessels transporting petroleum products and chemicals that are far more stringent than those for other vessels.
    • Oil terminals and charters thoroughly inspect every ship against strict international standards before permitting them to call at their facilities.
    • Canadian regulations which require all ships to be registered for an approved oil response. In B.C. the response organization is the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC).
    • Oil-handling preparedness requiring a separate response plan, approved by Transport Canada, which includes placement of a spill containment boom during oil tanker loading and unloading operations.

Learn more about marine transportation and safety.

Saltworks: Water Innovation for the Oil Sands


Alexandra Der, BP Canada


Canada's Energy