Project Oilsand

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Project Oilsand, also known as Project Oilsands, and originally known as Project Cauldron, was a 1958 proposal to exploit the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta via the underground detonation of up to 100 nuclear explosives;[1] hypothetically, the heat and pressure created by an underground detonation would boil the bitumen deposits, reducing their viscosity to the point that standard oilfield techniques could be used.

Project Cauldron was suggested by L.M. Natland, a geologist working for Richfield Oil, in response to American efforts to find peaceful uses for atomic energy. An investigative committee was formed with the support of Alberta's Social Credit government. One of the committee's early recommendations was that, in order to minimize public fears, a "less effervescent name"[2] should be used; Project Cauldron was subsequently renamed Project Oilsand.

In April 1959, the Federal Mines Department approved Project Oilsand; Pony Creek, Alberta (103 kilometres [64 miles] from Fort McMurray) was selected as a test site.[3] Before the project could continue beyond these preliminary steps, however, the Canadian government's stance on the use of nuclear weapons shifted towards one of non-proliferation; out of concerns that it would increase the risk of Soviet espionage, Project Oilsand was put on hiatus.[3] In April 1962, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Howard Charles Green said "Canada is opposed to nuclear tests, period";[4] Project Oilsand was subsequently canceled.


The general means by which the plan was to work was discussed in the October 1976 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists issue.[5] A patent was granted for the process that was intended: The Process for Stimulating Petroliferous Subterranean Formations with Contained Nuclear Explosions by Bray, Knutson, and Coffer which was first submitted in 1964.[6][7] With the nuclear detonation option being considered to have served as a forerunner to some of the nascent conventional ideas that are presently in use and proposed to extract oil from the Alberta regions Athabasca oil sands.[8]


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