In the Wabasca Field area, the bitumen is a solid asphaltic substance composed of organic matter and Asphaltenes which by definition are soluble in both toxic benzene and toluene.i According to Cenovus, one of the operators in the Wabasca area, “Oil in the oil sands is much thicker. In some areas it can be as hard as a hockey puck. We have to stimulate it to make it flow.”ii This description of the bitumen in the reservoir is confirmed by Total’s downhole viscosity comparison chart (shown below) which shows that in the subsurface Wabasca Oil is more resistant to flow (has the highest viscosity) globally than 50 other major heavy oil producing fields in South America, Europe and the United States etc.
i University of Alberta 2014, What are Asphaltenes in Petroleum, Oil Sands and Heavy Oil?
Figure 4 Global Viscosity Comparison of Heavy Oil Fields
(Top Is Most Resistant To Flow)
SOURCE: TOTAL 2003
Note that Wabasca occurs at the very top of the chart with a viscosity of over 5 million centipoise. When compared with other common substances (shown below) this is 5 million times more resistant to flow than water, about 5 times that of molten glass or about the consistency of household caulking compound. The key to producing this oil is to keep it liquid and flowing as the companies fight a constant battle to prevent the bitumen from precipitating and fouling the pipes.
Figure 5 Viscosity Comparisons of Common Materials