On Feb. 5, 2019, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) released its annual Alberta Water Use Report. The report shows how water is allocated and used to recover oil, gas, and oil sands resources.
The report found that Alberta's oil and natural gas companies are using far less water than what is allocated to them. For example, in 2017, the energy industry only used about 25 per cent (260 million cubic metres) of what was allocated to them (about 1 billion cubic metres). That’s less than 0.18 per cent of all the nonsaline water available in Alberta. The AER estimates that, conservatively, at least 144 billion cubic metres of water are available in Alberta.
Oil sands mining represented 79 per cent of industry’s overall water use. Since 2013, the mining subsector has reduced its non-saline water use intensity by 13 per cent, and almost 75 per cent of water used was recycled in 2017. Oil sands operations involving in situ methods of recovery (i.e., involving drilling rather than mining) also show continual improvement in water use performance. In 2017, non-saline water use intensity was just 0.20 bbl/BOE, and recycled water made up 87 per cent of water use.
"The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is proud of industry’s track record and continued improvement in water use performance," notes CAPP spokesperson, Tonya Zelinsky.
"Industry is increasing production without proportional increases in non-saline water use," added Zelinsky. "From 2013 to 2017, the volume of non-saline water used by the industry increased by 16 per cent, while production increased about 70 per cent. Reducing non-saline water use and increasing water recycling rates are key priorities for the energy industry."
The report measured non-saline water-use intensity, which is the number of barrels of non-saline water used to produce one barrel of oil (or its energy equivalent). The focus is on non-saline water as saline water (water with a very high salt content, often found deep underground) is unusable for human consumption, wildlife or agriculture. Indeed, industry actively uses saline water sources as an alternative to non-saline sources whenever feasible.
The report did find that hydraulic fracturing water-use intensity increased by 2.5 times between 2013 and 2017. Zelinsky noted that multi-stage hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology is still relatively new. Increased recycling, use of alternatives to non-saline water, and improvements in technology are expected to decrease non-saline water use intensity in hydraulic fracturing over time.