2005 Winner: ASTech Special Award
Pioneers In Oil Sand Research Leave Lasting Legacy
Through their pioneering efforts, Dr. Clark and Dr. Butler established the scientific foundation for the development of Alberta’s immense oil sands resource; a foundation that is today benefiting Alberta’s economy and her people in equally immense ways.
As these two gentlemen discovered, the oil sands is a highly challenging resource that does not easily release its bounty. But they also knew its potential was huge, and so they persevered. Dr. Clark invented the hot-water extraction process, which was patented in 1929 and first commercialized in 1967. It enabled the development of surface mining and extraction operations for which the city of Fort McMurray is now famous.
Dr. Butler created the process known as SAG-D, or steam assisted gravity drainage, which enabled the extraction of oil from oil sand deposits which are too deep to mine. It was developed through the late 1960s and ‘70s and first commercialized in 1985.
Through these two inventions, Dr. Clark and Dr. Butler made viable the exploitation of more than 300 billion barrels of crude oil here in Alberta. And while they are no longer with us, they have indelibly shaped the future of Alberta’s oil industry. Indeed, some 30 per cent of Canada’s crude oil production now comes from the oil sands, and this resource is poised to play a much greater role in our petroleum-based economy in the years ahead.