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Heavy oils and rock asphalt occurring in Mississippian and Pennsylvanian strata along the southern and southeastern edges of the Eastern Interior (Illinois) Basin in Kentucky are of increasing interest to companies seeking long-term commitments to the region, Fig. 1. Although development of asphalt rock at or near surface has occurred for well over 100 years, there is renewed interested in the heavy to borderline heavy oil located in primarily Mississippian-aged formations. These are estimated to contain 3 billion bbl of oil minimally, but some estimates suggest up to 6 billion bbl of oil reserves—sufficient to attract a significant number of North American companies to the region. This is especially true considering the advent of more environmentally friendly and efficient recovery technologies such as heating the reservoir using Direct Current (DC) or microwave energy, which are believed to be effective within a few hundred feet below surface. This article briefly discusses the occurrence of these hydrocarbons, defines basic terminology for heavy oil and tar sands focusing on common physical and chemical properties, reviews a series of projects and discusses past and proposed recovery methods in the area, along with opportunities and challenges for fully developing this important hydrocarbon-rich region.
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