In the typical oil drilling rig, you have to have a drilling pump going nonstop 24/7 just to extract crude oil that is sticky and difficult to move. In some oil fields, like the oil sands in Canada, it is nearly impossible to extract the crude oil without extensive and expensive measures because the oil has saturated the sands. However, newer methods of getting crude oil out of the ground and out of oil fields where it would just be too costly to extract it are paving the way for more oil that is not so costly to extract. One of these methods, thermal enhanced oil recovery, makes oil slicker and more slippery, which in turn makes it easier to extract every last possible drop. Here is more on this process, in case you want to invest in an oil company that uses this approach.
How Heat Is Used To Extract Oil
With the use of the word thermal in the oil recovery process, you can bet that the approach uses heat in some way. You are correct. Two sets of pipes are drilled and sent downward to tap the oil. The first set sucks up and pumps out the oil. The second set pumps extremely hot steam or boiling water down into the chamber where the oil sits. Oil and water do not mix, but they do produce a faster moving, less sticky oil slurry. While the second set of pipes continues to heat up the oil below with water or steam, the first set of pipes is able to extract more oil faster. Sure, the steam/water comes along for the ride, but in an oil refinery, that steam/water will dissipate again anyway.
How It Works With Oil Sands
It is pretty straightforward with oil below ground, but how does thermal enhanced oil recovery work with oil sands? Well, imagine an oil slick all over a beach. Do you know what oil companies do to remove an oil spill from beaches? They wash the sand! That is very much how this approach works for oil sands too. The steam or boiling water flushes the oil from the sands, which is then collected through suction as the oil is being flushed. This approach works very well, regardless of where the oil is located (i.e. down deep in the earth versus on the surface). Since it uses a very cheap resource (i.e. water/steam), it is also a very inexpensive way to get every last possible drop of oil from a well or from oil sands.