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Heavy oil and natural bitumen resources in geological basins of the world

March 31, 2007

Heavy oil and natural bitumen are oils set apart by their high viscosity (resistance to flow) and high density (low API gravity). These attributes reflect the invariable presence of up to 50 weight percent asphaltenes, very high molecular weight hydrocarbon molecules incorporating many heteroatoms in their lattices. Almost all heavy oil and natural bitumen are alteration products of conventional oil. Total resources of heavy oil in known accumulations are 3,396 billion barrels of original oil in place, of which 30 billion barrels are included as prospective additional oil. The total natural bitumen resource in known accumulations amounts to 5,505 billion barrels of oil originally in place, which includes 993 billion barrels as prospective additional oil. This resource is distributed in 192 basins containing heavy oil and 89 basins with natural bitumen. Of the nine basic Klemme basin types, some with subdivisions, the most prolific by far for known heavy oil and natural bitumen volumes are continental multicyclic basins, either basins on the craton margin or closed basins along convergent plate margins. The former includes 47 percent of the natural bitumen, the latter 47 percent of the heavy oil and 46 percent of the natural bitumen. Little if any heavy oil occurs in fore-arc basins, and natural bitumen does not occur in either fore-arc or delta basins.