Using currently available technology and under the current economic conditions, there are 165 billion barrels of remaining established reserves in the oil sands deposits of Northern Alberta.

There are 315 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil in the oil sands. Some of this oil would require more favourable economic conditions or new technology to extract and process.

Approximately 80% of oil sands are recoverable through in-situ production, with only 20% recoverable by mining.

Recovery rate percentages vary depending on the method of extraction:

  • 5-10% for primary recovery of conventional oil.
  • Up to 20% using conventional enhanced oil recovery methods such as water flood or polymer flood.
  • Up to 35-40% bitumen using cyclic steam stimulation.
  • Up to 50-60% of bitumen using steam assisted gravity drainage.
  • Up to 90% of bitumen from mining.

Assessment of Prospects
People interested in beginning an oil sands projects have multiple tools at their disposal to determine the best place to acquire rights for exploration:

  • Geological appraisals: aerial surveys, field surveys
  • Geophysical assessment: seismic, magnetic, gravitational
  • Examination of publicly available records. These are often records resulting from previous exploration efforts.


Once a parcel of land is identified as being likely to contain oil sand, mineral rights for that specific area are purchased from either private owners or the Provincial Crown via Alberta Energy. This is the beginning of the Tenure process.

Land is leased via Public Offerings every two weeks. Bids can be submitted through the Electonic Transfer System (ETS).

Well License
At any time following the purchase of mineral rights, a well license can be obtained.

A well license allows you to begin production immediately. All production from Crown Rights is subject to payment of royalties.

With a well license secured, detailed exploration can begin. This can include:

  • Seismic assessment
  • Drilling

The Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) produces daily, weekly and monthly rig countsexternal link icon.