Heavy crude oil or extra heavy crude oil is oil that is highly viscous and cannot easily flow to production wells under normal reservoir conditions. It is referred to as “heavy” because its density or specific gravity is higher than that of light crude oil. Heavy crude oil has been defined as any liquid petroleum with an API gravity less than 20°.
Physical properties that differ between heavy crude oils and lighter grades include higher viscosity and specific gravity, as well as heavier molecular composition. In 2010, the World Energy Council defined extra heavy oil as crude oil having a gravity of less than 10° and a reservoir viscosity of no more than 10 000 centipoises.
When reservoir viscosity measurements are not available, extra-heavy oil is considered by the WEC to have a lower limit of 4° (i.e. with the density greater than 1000 kg/m3 or, equivalently, a specific gravity greater than 1 and a reservoir viscosity of no more than 10,000 centipoises.
Heavy oils and asphalt are dense no aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs). They have a low solubility and are with viscosity lower and density higher than water.