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A large conveyor transports crushed bitumen at the Muskeg River Mine.

Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP)

The Oil Sands business includes the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP), a joint venture between Shell Canada (60%), Chevron Canada Limited (20%) and Marathon Oil Canada Corporation (20%), consisting of Shell Albian Sands mining and extraction operations, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and both the Scotford Upgrader and the Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project located north of Edmonton, Alberta.

Two heavy hauler trucks drive in the Muskeg River Mine.


Shell Albian Sands consists of the AOSP’s two open pit mines, Muskeg River Mine and the Jackpine Mine. Here, large shovels and trucks are used to excavate the ore containing bitumen. The bitumen is separated from the sand and clay with warm water, diluted with a solvent and then transported south via pipeline to the Scotford Upgrader.

 An employee leans against a railing to check equipment on the Residue Hydro-Conversion Unit at Shell Scotford Upgrader


The Scotford Upgrader located north of Edmonton, Alberta, processes bitumen mined from the AOSP’s Muskeg River Mine and the Jackpine Mine by adding hydrogen and breaking up the large hydrocarbon molecules to create synthetic crude oil. The Upgrader is also connected to the Quest CCS project.

A pipeline operator turns a valve on a line break valve which is part of the Quest Project CO2 pipeline

Carbon Capture and Storage

Located near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Quest is a fully integrated project to capture, transport, and store over one million tonnes of CO2 per year from Shell’s Scotford Upgrader - the equivalent to the emissions from about 250,000 cars.

Quest is part of the AOSP and began capturing and storing CO2 in 2015.

What are Oil Sands?

a large shovel fills a heavy haul truck with bitumen

Canada’s oil sands span roughly 140,000 km2 and contain some 170 billion barrels of crude oil. They provide a secure and reliable source of energy for North America and development in Alberta occurs under a transparent and thorough regulatory process. Oil sands are an economic engine for Alberta and Canada and provide economic and social benefits to the people and communities in which they operate.

Heavy oil, also known as bitumen, is a thick, black, sticky hydrocarbon found in Canada’s oil sands. Oil sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen. It is usually too heavy to extract using conventional methods.

In the Athabasca region, near Fort McMurray, Alberta, oil sands deposits are close to the surface (less than 70 metres or 200 feet deep). Here, oil sands are mined with trucks and shovels, and the bitumen extracted using hot water. Only 20% of oil sands deposits can be extracted through mining, the other 80% is recovered in place or insitu using drilling methods.

Why oil sands

Two workers look over a tailings pond while standing on a metal walk way.

Why oil sands

Canada is one of a few countries in the world with the potential for oil production to increase over the next 20 years. As of 2014, Alberta’s proven oil sands reserves were 166 billion barrels, making them one of the most important sources of crude oil in the world. 

Alberta’s oil sands produce 1.9 million barrels per day and within 10 years, that number is expected to double*.

Advancements in technology to improve recovery, manage environmental impact and reduce costs are expanding the recoverable resource potential of Canada’s oil sands. Over the next five years, Alberta is expected to invest over $6 billion in green technology – more than all other Canadian provinces combined*. 

Our large resource base, combined with our technological expertise provides a strong platform for Shell to operate its heavy oil business in a way that is economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally responsible.

*Source: Government of Alberta, Alberta’s Oil Sands



sun shines through leaves in the forest.

At Shell, we believe the long term success of oil sands in the energy mix depends not only on our ability to compete economically but also to continuously improve environmental performance.

Shell is advancing environmental strategies for greenhouse gas (GHG), water and land management that identify short, medium and long term actions to improve our performance:

Long-terms goals

Greenhouse Gases:

  • Improve energy efficiency of existing assets through operational excellence and strategic capital investment 
  • Future projects with improved performance through innovation and optimization across the value chain 
  • Leverage research, development and demonstration to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon capture and storage costs 
  • Where we need offsets to meet local compliance obligations, we make a concerted effort via our purchases to support renewable power


  • Optimize use of on-site water at our mines to reduce Athabasca River use 
  • Optimize/integrate water use and wastewater treatment at the Scotford Complex 
  • Develop technology to enable reduced river water requirements


  • Reduce disturbance footprint 
  • Increase temporary and permanent reclamation areas 
  • Use conservation areas to bridge the disturbance gap 
  • Integrate planning and execution of mining, waste disposal and reclamation 
  • Continue to provide opportunities for stakeholder (particularly Aboriginal) participation in reclamation 
  • Improve tailings management technology to enhance reclamation

Collaboration and Certification

Shell is a founding member of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) which brings oil sands producers together to share environmental technologies with a focus on accelerating the pace of improving environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands.

In 2004, Shell was the first oil sands company to receive ISO 14001 accreditation for all of its oil sands operations. This international standard for environmental management demonstrates our commitment to continuous environmental improvement. 

Oil Sands Performance Report


A Shell representative walks through a field with a neighbouring landowner and his dog

The average life cycle of an oil sands project is 40 years. We have a long term interest in the development and wellbeing of the communities in which we operate.

We seek opportunities to gain advice and input from people neighbouring our operations as well as those who take an active interest in Shell’s oil sands business. Shell hosts open houses in the communities in which we operate, tours of our oil sands operations, and forums with experts from Aboriginal, academic, government and non-government organizations.

Visit for more information on Shell’s social investment.

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