If you live out Morgantown Road several miles, close to Sharp Garden Road, you may have noticed some changes in the landscape. From lush overgrown fields to tree top lined areas, there is now only dirt.
Arrakis Oil Recovery - a subsidiary of Imperial Petroleum of Evansville, Ind. - is now mining approximately 121 acres of property the company has purchased. The company also has a lease option on additional acreage and is actively looking to obtain even more.
The company is interested in the tar sand mines that run northwest of Russellville up through Butler, Edmondson, Warren and Breckenridge Counties.
Tar sands are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil. Tar sands can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil. The bitumen in tar sands cannot be pumped from the ground in its natural state; instead tar sand deposits are mined, usually using strip mining or open pit techniques.
Jeffrey Wilson serves as President of Imperial Petroleum as well as manager of Arrakis. His son, Aaron Wilson is the project manager for the Logan County project.
“We are a small public company,” said Wilson, adding that although the process is similar to strip mining, it is less invasive.
The sands in Logan County are at surface level, said Wilson, which will make it easier to get to. “You could take a shovel and hit the oil sands,” Wilson said, adding you can use a front end loader or bull dozier to get down to the sands.” Wilson said their target is 17 to 20 feet, but they could go as deep as 50 feet.
Although a small company, Imperial Petroleum is making a mark in the sand mining industry and also has presence in the states of Louisiana and Texas.
What is so special about this company is the recent technology it is responsible for creating that is actually changing the way sands have been mined in the past. According to Wilson, there has been a lot of sand tar mining done in Canada; however, the process being used calls for steam and heat, which can leave chemicals behind in the sands after the bitumen is extracted.
“Canadian tar has always gotten a bad name. They are wet sands and steam is used to release the oil. The only problem with that is it doesn’t completely clean the sand which leaves hydrocarbon on it. There are huge piles left and lagoons of oily water which creates an environmental problem,” said Wilson.
Another issue, Wilson said, is using heat in the process which he says can cause admissions into the air. The technology created by Imperial Petroleum does away with the old ways, says Wilson.
“We have been working two to three years developing our process with a technology group in Texas,” said Wilson. “With our way we use a recycled water based chemical that allows us to clean the sand 100 percent free from hydrocarbon. It’s been certified by third party labs,” added Wilson. The chemical is non-toxic and biodegradable.
Wilson said his company is currently sending the technology to Canada to help clean up what was left behind from the old ways.
Imperial Petroleum has formed a joint venture with PEKA Concepts out of Texas to help move the unit that extracts the Bitumen from the sands to Logan County. The company is planning to build a pole barn type structure to house the equipment. Plans are also in the works for hiring workers to operate the equipment.
Wilson anticipates after the mining gets going they will be able to collect around 1,000 barrels a day. This product can be used in asphalt or can be sent to refineries. It can also be used as bunker fuel (crude oil) and used for ships.
The contractors hired to mine the property say there will be some blasting at some point and those around the area should get a pre-blast assessment of the structures on their property. This can help in the case damage occurs.