Oil sands are a bit of a challenge to describe. What you need to know is these sands contain bitumen, which is a particularly viscous form of petroleum and can also come in the form of hardened out sandstone.
These “sands” contain a mixture of things like clay, water, and obviously bitumen.
Extracting petroleum from these deposits isn’t easy. Large surface mining operations typically take place on the Athabasca oil sands deposit in Canada, employing thousands of workers for decades at a time. Normally these sands are so far deep in the ground that different means of extraction are necessary, however, the Athabasca oil sands are surprisingly shallow–prime for simple surface mining.
To start, a variety of trucks and heavy machinery dig and haul dirt until the deposits are struck, which are normally 40 to 60 meters thick.
After the deposits get mined, they have to be refined to take out the water, sand, physical waste, and lighter products. They go through quite an exhaustive process to make this happen.
As I said, the biggest reserve is found in Canada, however, other large oil sand deposits can be found in Kazakhstan and Russia. Having said that, 70 percent of the world’s natural bitumen reserves can be found in Alberta, Canada.
A few years ago oil sands weren’t considered part of the world’s oil reserves. They were just much too expensive to mine and process, however, new methods have flipped this on its head. Oil sands are now much cheaper and easier to process, with major operations going on all over the world to extract them.