When a group of Harris Corp. employees in Florida began working to develop new technologies for the oil sands industry, they got off to a shaky start. In their first brainstorming session, they pronounced bitumen, the tar-like substance in the oil sands that is transformed into crude, "by-TOO-men."
Harris went on to form a consortium with Nexen Inc., Suncor Energy Inc., and privately held Laricina Energy Ltd. The group said Tuesday it has field-tested a new extraction method that holds the potential to dramatically change the way the oil sands are developed. Their method essentially involves microwaving bitumen. If it works, it could tackle some of the industry’s largest challenges: water use, greenhouse gas emissions and high costs.
Companies in the oil sands, facing formidable environmental challengers and doing business in an extremely expensive slice of the energy industry, are scrambling to clean up the way they operate in northern Alberta.