Oil Sands & Bitumen Pump Applications

The mining and extracting of bitumen from oil sands wrecks havoc on pumps with its natural abrasiveness along with harsh chemicals. Learn why the EDDY Pump is the top choice for pumping in the oil sands industry in addition to several other industrial applications.

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Background on Oil Sands Mining & Refinement

The oil sands mining industry focuses on extracting bitumen-rich sands from the Earth, mainly from large oil sands deposits located in the Athabasca region of Alberta, Canada. It has been estimated that there are over 1.4 trillion barrels of oil in the form of bitumen embedded within these sands, which is estimated to contain over 15% of the entire fossil fuel resources on Earth. The reason these sands are mined is that these oil sands contain small amounts of bitumen, the highly viscous but oil-rich substance found in oil sands. Oil sands, also known as tar sands, can be described as a mixture of sand, clay, water, and bitumen. When the oil sands are first mined, the extracted sand and clay material typically contain about 10-15% bitumen by volume. This sand is then further refined using a separation process to extract the highly viscous and sticky bitumen, which can best be compared to molasses, based on their similar viscosity. For this reason, hydrocarbons are often introduced into the bitumen to help reduce the viscosity to the point to where it can be pumped through a pipeline for further refinement into crude oil.

Historically, the oil sands industry is known for using vast amounts of water to produce small amounts of bitumen. According to some estimates, anywhere between 530-1200 gallons of water are used to produce one cubic meter of synthetic crude oil (about 264 gallons) in an oil sands mining operation. The environmental and economical impacts of this high water usage can begin to get problematic quickly as the mining operation expands. As a result, oil sands mining companies are constantly looking for ways to reduce and reuse on-site water usage to lessen the strain on the Athabasca River and surrounding environment.

Bitumen Extraction

high viscosity slurry pumpAfter the bitumen has been extracted from the sands, the remainder of the mined material must be disposed of. Since the mined oil sands only contain a small percentage of bitumen, an ample amount of tailings are left in the wake of its extraction. The tailings then must be removed from the mining and bitumen extraction site to keep the mine free of unwanted material. This process involves scooping the material into trucks, transporting the unwanted tailings offsite, and offloading the sand and clay tailings into large water-filled, clay-lined MFT (Mature Fine Tailings) ponds. The tailings then reside in these ponds and over time, water and gravity help to separate the heavier tailings from the water by allowing the heavier sand and clay to sink to the bottom of the pond. FOr environmental reasons, these MFT ponds need to be routinely cleaned out as new tailings are constantly being added. The challenge begins to present itself when trying to dredge these ponds without introducing any additional water to do so. Since the material that needs to be removed contains such a high specific gravity/viscosity, in addition to being extremely abrasive makes for a tall task for any pump. Previous pumps had to add water and needed frequent replacement because of high wear and cavitation due to the nature of the material, costing large sums of money and downtime of production just to keep the pumps running smoothly.

Problems with Pumping Oil Sands and & Spent Material

Since reliably pumping oil sands, whether it be bitumen or the solids-heavy waste, can be a challenging feat, many pump operators in the oil sands industry are constantly on the look for a pump that can withstand the harsh environment found in oil sands regions. Since their standard centrifugal solids pumps fail so often, they often seek out more robust, cost-effective pumps to reduce overall production costs and minimize downtime associated with pump maintenance and wear.

Once the majority of the bitumen has been extracted from the sands during the refining process on-site, the rest of the material is trucked over to large man-made pits called MFT (Mature Fine Tailings) ponds for proper reclamation according to government regulations.

As of 2016, the Alberta government considers all tailings ponds to be temporary storage facilities which must eventually be reclaimed by order of Directive 085. Oil sands operators regularly report the total volume of tailings held in the storage ponds to keep a sound measurement of material. According to Alberta law, all tailings ponds must be fully reclaimed within 10 years once the pond is no longer in use. The end-of-mine-life target for all projects will be the equivalent of five years or less of fluid tailings volume accumulation. Operations are required to achieve an RTR (Ready to Reclaim) state ten years after the end of the mines life.

According to Directive 085: Link to PDF
“Fluid tailings are considered RTR when they have been processed with an accepted technology, placed in their final landscape position, and meet performance criteria. RTR is intended to track treated fluid tailings performance during the operational stage of the deposit to ensure that the deposit can be reclaimed as predicted in the life-of-mine closure plan, in the time predicted.

In order to evaluate whether active treated tailings deposits are on the predicted trajectory to allow them to be removed from the fluid tailing inventory, they must achieve approved performance criteria. Each treated tailings deposit will have approved indicators that must be measured to determine if the performance criteria have been achieved.”

The Solution: Transport MFT Pond Waste Using EDDY Pump Dredging Equipment

Oil sand mining operations produce a remarkable volume of waste after refinement that needs to be both transported to an MFT pond and subsequently cleaned out periodically. Typically, MFT Pond operators prefer to not add additional water to the pond if it is not needed in order to pump the most amount of solids to maximize production while preventing damage to the pump used in the process. In most cases, the site managers also need to be constantly aware of the condition of the pumps they’re using on-site in order to prevent them from clogging or wearing out too quickly. Regardless of the final destination or use for the sand and clay waste operations must have the right high solids slurry pumps to move them for transport, storage, or on-site processing. Exploring the differences in the various viscosities, high specific gravity, and abrasive oil sands waste complications will reveal why the EDDY Pump is the best fit for the job.

The Eddy Pump is designed to move highly abrasive and viscous slurry with solid content as high as 40-70% solid by volume depending on the material. This is an ideal application for pumping oil sands sludge which has a naturally high specific gravity near 1.52. Oil sands sludge can contain between 50-70% solids, making it an ideal application for EDDY Pump and dredging products. The Eddy Pump moves these materials efficiently because of the large volute chamber and the recessed design of the geometric rotor. With this design, there is very little material that comes into contact with the rotor, providing minimal wear on the pump, ensuring long pump life and greatly reduced maintenance cost for the lifetime of the pump.


MFT Pond Cleaning & Reclamation

Applications: Oil Sand Extraction, Bitumen Transport, MFT Pond Cleaning

The purpose of this page is to display an example application to help you better identify your specific oil sands application and to learn more about EDDY Pump equipment solutions (including VFD pumps) to meet your needs in the oil sands mining industry. These are the most common oil sands applications that we use our equipment for. We are the OEM of the tools shown.

Application: Oil sand pumping (water required)
Material: Quartz silica sand. Coarse and abrasive, in slurry form.

Common Oil Sand Extraction Scenario:

The EDDY Slurry Pump is perfect for pumping oil sand slurry, including the transportation of the highly viscous bitumen. This pump does NOT pump dry sand, we need at least a foot or two of water on top to create a sand or mud slurry which can then be pumped through a pipeline.

By using an EDDY Pump in an oil sand extraction application, you can handle the most abrasive of materials while minimizing clogs and other maintenance problems. The EDDY Pump allows you to pump the oil sand slurry at distances over 2-miles at production rates of up to 600 tons of slurry per hour or 5000 GPM.

Below are commonly pumping distances we see. Contact us with your exact numbers and we can provide you with a customized pump curve tailored to your job.

Distance: 2300 ft
Vertical Rise: 25 ft
Production: 1210 GPM

Equipment Used: EDDY Slurry Pump 6 Inch setup.
Optional HPU: Excavator powered attachment OR a separate Hydraulic Power Unit (HPU) will power the pump attachment. The ideal option is based on your project requirements.

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Treatment Options for Oil Sands

Options vary depending on whether the company plans to handle oil sands and bitumen treatment on-site or transport the materials to a remote landfill or processing facility. If the plan is to deposit the oil sands waste in an MFT pond or another long-term storage container, it’s best to invest in a pump capable of depositing the material directly into transport vehicles or pumped directly to the disposal site. Most dredging operations rely on multiple expensive vacuum trucks, secondary pumps, and extra pieces of equipment.

The EDDY Oil Sands Pump

This application for the Eddy Pump has the potential to revolutionize the oil sands industry. Trucking oil sands waste can be reduced, resulting in savings on overtime and incidences of fatigued driving. The EDDY Pump is ideal for numerous oil sands applications and can be connected directly onto an excavator or floating barge or dredge to pump the material at distances over a mile for disposal. This eliminates the need for costly vacuum trucks and also the manpower needed to mechanically move the bitumen and oil sands waste. The reasons why the EDDY Pump is capable of moving the highly viscous bitumen is due to the hydrodynamic principle that the pump creates, which is similar to the EDDY current of a tornado. This tornado motion allows for the higher viscosity and specific gravity pumping ability. This along with the large tolerance between the volute and the rotor allows for high abrasive particles like sand to pass through the pump with minimal wear to the components of the pump. The large tolerance of the EDDY Pump also allows the EDDY Pump to last many times longer than centrifugal pumps without the need for extended downtime or replacement parts. The EDDY Pump is the lowest total life cycle pump on the market when it comes to moving oil sands.

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For oil sands mining, the cost and storage space required for constant accumulation and disposal of oil sands waste is a huge problem. Using the EDDY Pump, the sand could be pumped directly into MFT ponds or other disposal vessels, bypassing the need to store the waste on-site. The EDDY Pump could then directly pump or dredge the waste sand from the ponds. Over the course of operation, these factors will save heavily on money and labor for both the oil sands sites and the bitumen processing companies.

Contact us to learn more about the EDDY Pump’s role in handling drill cuttings and other high viscosity slurries. The compact size and patented design save space in dredging pits with limited space, allowing room for more equipment.

Why EDDY Pumps Are Better – Highlights

This video shows how EDDY Pump transports high slurry and abrasive materials. Featured dredge pump equipment includes the Remote Operated Subdredge, Diver Operated Pump and a Excavator Attachment Dredge Pump.

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