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Water Use Performance

Our annual water use report discloses how much water energy companies in Alberta use—including how much water is being recycled—for activities including oil sands (mining and in situ), hydraulic fracturing, and enhanced oil recovery. This report is part of our industry performance program, which measures, evaluates, and reports on the energy development activities we regulate.

In Situ Recovery

In 2017, In Situ Water Use [Tableau] projects used almost 18 million cubic metres of nonsaline water (26 per cent of all water allocated for in situ oil sands projects) to produce over 546 million BOE—meaning that for every BOE produced, 0.20 barrels of nonsaline water was used.

Efficient Water Use

Every in situ project is different; there is no single way to determine which projects use water most efficiently. Factors to consider include the reservoir’s quality and a company’s access to saline groundwater sources. For example, some in situ projects are far from saline groundwater sources. In these cases, companies must use nonsaline water or an alternative, such as produced water or industrial wastewater, to recover bitumen.

Project age is another factor that influences water use efficiency. In situ projects require more water during the first few years of operation to create steam and heat up the underground reservoir where bitumen is located. During the heating process, water typically stays in the reservoir for many years before it returns to the surface as an emulsion with oil sands.

As in situ projects become fully operational, they require less water because the same amount of water that is injected as steam returns to the surface within the emulsion. Companies can reuse water in the emulsion and add enough make-up water to their operations to account for water that has not returned to the surface. 

For instance, in 2017, projects that started production in 2003 or earlier, such as Cenovus Foster Creek, Suncor MacKay River, and Imperial Cold Lake, had average intensities of 0.09, 0.13, and 0.25 barrels of nonsaline make-up water per BOE produced, respectively. In comparison, newer projects, such as Husky Sunrise and Athabasca Hangingstone, which started production in 2015, had average water use intensities of 0.58 and 0.31 barrels of nonsaline make-up water per BOE produced, respectively.

Industry performance

Evaluating company performance is not simply about who uses the least amount of water. Not only is each sector unique, but both the size of a company’s operations and how long a project has been operating matter when looking at how well a company is conserving water. 

Find out why we track industry performance.