What is Bitumen and Why a Pipeline is Important?

Bitumen is a naturally occurring, highly viscous hydrocarbon contained within the oil sands deposits. Bitumen is usually solid at room temperature and has a tar-like consistency. It must be diluted or heated to flow through pipelines because it does not flow freely.

Like crude oil, Bitumen is made up of hydrocarbons, but it also contains more carbon than hydrogen, and more impurities such as nitrogen, Sulphur and heavy metals. Impurities must be removed and the carbon-hydrogen imbalance must be corrected in order to produce synthetic crude oil.

Bitumen is processed in three steps:

  1. Extraction– solid and water are removed
  2. Upgrading– upgrade heavy bitumen into lighter, intermediate crude oil product
  3. Refining– Refine crude oil into final products such as diluents, lubricants and gasoline

Bitumen Extraction

The hot-water process is used to extract bitumen from oil sand. Mined oil sand contains 10 to 12% bitumen and the rest is made up of mineral matter and water.

The oil sand is mixed with water in a processing drum or pipeline during the hot-water process. Bitumen float upwards when droplets of bitumen separate from the grains of sand and attach themselves to small air bubbles.

A mixture called slurry is created and it is sent to the separation vessels where bitumen-rich froth is skimmed from the top. Coarse sand is pumped to disposal sites when it is settled.


Bitumen Upgrading

88-95% of bitumen mined in oil sands is recovered. Bitumen extracted from the oil sands require extra processing or upgrading before it can be turned into products such as fuel and sold to refineries. Bitumen is upgraded by coking the bitumen and by hydro-processing, or a combination of the two.

Coking bitumen involves removing carbon from the fractions of bitumen. It also involves thermally cracking the heavy fractions at 468 to 498 degrees Celsius to product lighter fractions and petroleum coke.

Hydro-processing bitumen involves adding hydrogen. It offers higher liquid yields, better distillate qualities and lower emission levels of Sulphur dioxide compared to coking, but at a much higher expense.


Crude Oil Refining

Crude oil is turned into final products for consumers and industrial use in refineries. These produces include fuels such as gasoline, diesel, kerosene and consumer products such as oil lubricants and asphalt.


Why is a Pipeline Important?

Crude oil from the Alberta oil sands is commonly transported to US and Canadian refineries by pipeline. A pipeline transports gas and oil from remote producing regions to Canada and the United State’s more populated areas.

Pipelines are a safe way of transporting gas and oil over long distances and also the most practical way to deliver oil and gas.

Pipelines are important because Canadians rely on natural gas and products made from crude oil to meet more than two-thirds of their energy needs every day. Pipelines are the energy lifelines of almost every activity of daily life. Natural resources like crude oil and natural gases are consumed daily.

Pipelines are an important industry to Canada’s economy, providing jobs and tax revenues. Pipelines are expected to add $175 billion to Canada’s economy over the next 30 years.

Plainsman Manufacturing manufactures and distributes products for oilfield production, pipeline maintenance, automated emergency shut down, construction and gas, and water distribution. Over the past 50 years, we have built a solid distribution base that includes oilfield supply stores, PC pump suppliers, OEM’s, chemical pump and instrumentation companies and utility companies in Western Canada.