Producing and upgrading heavy oil, extra-heavy oil, and bitumen require considerable energy input. Currently, natural gas provides most of the energy for steam generation, as well as providing a source of hydrogen for upgrading. There are insufficient quantities of natural gas in North America to sustain the planned expansion of heavy oil, extra-heavy oil, and bitumen production. Alternative fuels such as coal, coke, and heavy ends could be used, but burning them will increase CO2 emissions
Increased heavy oil, extra-heavy oil, and bitumen production will have a major impact on the environment if only current technologies are used. Increased emissions of carbon dioxide are the most immediate concern, especially if carbon-intensive alternative fuels are burned. Gasification combined with CO2 capture and sequestration could mitigate this problem. Mining operations have greater environmental issues than in situ techniques. These include water usage, footprint, land reclamation, reforestation, and the disposal of byproducts such as sulfur, fine tailings, acid, and heavy metals.
While heavy oil, extra-heavy oil, and bitumen production could be increased using commercial methods, advances in technology could mitigate all of the issues listed above. The potential impact of new technologies on economics, recovery factor, environmental effects, and manpower requirements could be substantial.