The History of Bitumount
Fort Hills – The “Original” Oil Sands
Fort Hills was home to one of the first commercial oil sands operations originally known as Bitumount. In the late 19th century, federal government geologists began extensive exploration of the Athabasca oil sands, suggesting that large pools of hydrocarbons existed under the surface of areas like Bitumount. Early 20th-century efforts to tap into these riches with conventional drilling technology produced unsatisfying returns - the oil seemed “trapped” in the bituminous sand of the area.
Hot Water Separation
In an effort to address this problem, Dr. Karl Clark of the Research Council of Alberta conducted experiments at the University of Alberta and developed a method of hot water separation to extract oil from the sand. Building upon this work, entrepreneur R.C. Fitzsimmons established a hot water separation plant at Bitumount in an effort to make the extraction, separation and refining of the oil sands a profitable enterprise.
Oil Sands Limited
In 1948, the provincial government took over Bitumount, establishing it as a pilot plant to determine whether the oil sands could be commercially viable.
The government later allowed private companies to use the site to conduct their own tests of the oil sands' commercial viability.
Research and Technology Continues
Although Bitumount was abandoned in the late 1950s, the research and technology associated with the site has had an enduring impact upon Alberta's oil industry and laid the foundation for the future of this valuable resource. In 1974, Bitumount was designated a provincial historic site.
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