IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change Unconventional oil

As conventional oil supplies become scarce and extraction costs increase, unconventional liquid fuels, in addition to CTL and GTL, will become more economically attractive, but offset by greater environmental costs (Williams et al., 2006). Oil that requires extra processing such as from shales, heavy oils and oil (tar) sands is classified as unconventional. Resource estimates are uncertain, but together contributed around 3% of world oil production in 2005 (2.8 EJ) and could reach 4.6 EJ by 2020 (USGS, 2000) and up to 6 EJ by 2030 (IEA, 2005a). The oil industry has the potential to diversify the product mix, thereby adding to fuel-supply security, but higher environmental impacts may result and investment in new infrastructure would be needed.

Heavy oil reserves are greater than 6870 EJ (1200 Gbbl) of oil equivalent with around 1550 EJ technically recoverable. The Orinoco Delta, Venezuela has a total resource of 1500 EJ with current production of 1.2 EJ/yr (WEC, 2004c). Plans for 2009 are to apply deep-conversion, delayed coking technology to produce 0.6 Mbbl/day of high-value transport fuels.

Oil shales (kerogen that has not completed the full geological conversion to oil due to insufficient heat and pressure) represent a potential resource of 20,000 EJ with a current production of just 0.024 EJ/yr, mostly in the US, Brazil, China and Estonia. Around 80% of the total resource lies in the western US with 500 Gbbl of medium-quality reserves from rocks yielding 95 L of oil per tonne but with 1000 Gbbl potential if utilizing lower-quality rock. Mining and upgrading of oil shale to syncrude fuel costs around 11 US$/bbl. As with oil sands (below), the availability of abundant water is an issue.

Around 80% of the known global tar sand resource of 15,000 EJ is in Alberta, Canada, which has a current production of 1.6 EJ/yr, representing around 15% of national oil demand. Around 310 Gbbl is recoverable (CAPP, 2006). Production of around 2 Mbbl/day by 2010 could provide more than half of Canada’s projected total oil production with 4 Mbbl/day possible by 2020. Total resources represent at least 400 Gt of stored carbon and will probably be added to as more are discovered, assuming that natural gas and water (steam) to extract the hydrocarbons are available at a reasonable cost.

Technologies for recovering tar sands include open cast (surface) mining where the deposits are shallow enough (which accounts for 10% of the resource but 80% of current extraction), or injection of steam into wells in situ to reduce the viscosity of the oil prior to extraction. Mining requires over 100m3 of natural gas per barrel of bitumen extracted and in situ around 25m3. In both cases cleaning and upgrading to a level suitable for refining consumes a further 25–50m3 per barrel of oil feedstock. The mining process uses about four litres of water to produce one litre of oil but produces a refinable product. The in situ process uses about two litres of water to one of oil, but the very heavy product needs cleaning and diluting (usually with naptha) at the refinery or sent to an upgrader to yield syncrude at an energy efficiency of around 75% (NEB, 2006). The energy efficiency of oil sand upgrading is around 75%. Mining, producing and upgrading oil sands presently costs about 15 US$/bbl (IEA, 2006a) but new greenfield projects would cost around 30–35 US$/bbl due to project-cost inflation in recent years (NEB, 2006). If CCS is integrated, then an additional 5 US$ per barrel at least should be added. Comparable costs for conventional oil are 4–6 US$/bbl for exploration and production and 1–2 US$/bbl for refining.

Mining of oil sands leaves behind large quantities of pollutants and areas of disturbed land.

The total CO2 emitted per unit of energy during production of liquid unconventional oils is greater than for a unit of conventional oil products due to higher energy inputs for extraction and processing. Net emissions amount to 15–34 kgCO2 (4–9 kgC) per GJ of transport fuel compared with around 5-10 kgCO2 (1.3-2.7 kgC) per GJ for conventional oil (IEA, 2005d, Woyllinowicz et al., 2005). Oil sands currently produce around 3–4 times the pre-combustion emissions (CO2/GJ liquid fuel) compared with conventional oil extraction and refining, whereas large-scale production of oil-shale processing would be about 5 times, GTL 3–4 times, and CTL around 7–8 times when using sub-bituminous coal. The Athabascan oil-sands project has refining energy expenditures of 1 GJ energy input per 6 GJ bitumen processed, producing emissions of 11 kgCO2 (3 kgC) per GJ from refining alone, but with a voluntary reduction goal of 50% by 2010 (Shell, 2006).