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Water Use Performance

Energy companies use water throughout the life cycles of their projects and activities. It’s our job to ensure that Alberta’s energy industry uses water resources responsibly and to identify where there is room for improvement.

Our Water Use Performance Report shows how water is allocated and used to recover oil, gas, and oil sands resources. This annual report is part of our larger Industry Performance Program, which measures, evaluates, and reports on the energy development activities that we regulate. Our 2017 version of this report now includes water use data by company for oil sands mining and in situ operations.

What the Report Says

Companies are using far less water than what is allocated to them. In 2016, 10 per cent (or 1 billion cubic metres) of all nonsaline water allocated in Alberta was for energy development. However, the energy industry used only about 22 per cent (224 million cubic metres) of that amount.

Water Use by Recovery Technology

To compare nonsaline water use across different recovery technologies, we used water use intensity to measure the amount of water (in barrels) needed to produce one barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) between 2012 and 2016. Oil sands mining had the highest nonsaline water use intensity at 2.6 barrels per BOE over that period. Enhanced oil recovery (EOR), in situ recovery, and hydraulic fracturing all had water use intensities of less than 0.5 barrels per BOE.

Click on a topic to find out how water is allocated and used among the recovery technologies we regulate:

Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling Water

Recycling water is an important part of the resource recovery process. Every technology used to recover Alberta’s energy resources—including mining, in situ, EOR, and hydraulic fracturing—recycles water.

Enhanced Oil Recovery and In Situ Recovery

In 2016, roughly 90 per cent of all water used for EOR and in situ recovery was recycled. Both EOR and in situ recovery recycle large amounts of water because they operate on a cycle where water (for EOR) and steam (for in situ) is continuously injected into the same wells. As a result, large amounts of water return to the surface. This water can be captured and reused to produce more oil or bitumen.

Because most of the water can be captured and reused, only a small amount of new water is needed for each cycle (called “make-up water”).

Hydraulic Fracturing

About 6 per cent of all water used for hydraulic fracturing in 2016 was recycled. The remaining water was made up of nonsaline water (93 per cent) and alternative water (1 per cent). Because hydraulic fracturing is completed only once on a single well, recycling water is more difficult. A company must store and transport the water to be used at another site, which can be located many kilometres away.

Few options are available for storing and transporting large volumes of used fracturing water and alternative water sources, so reusing fracturing fluids is challenging. Water used for hydraulic fracturing is classified as oilfield waste, and companies typically dispose of most of the water they’ve used by injecting it deep underground into approved waste disposal wells.

Oil Sands Mining

In 2016, about 80 per cent of all nonsaline water used in oil sands mining was recycled from tailings ponds.

Report Data

Our report data is available through Tableau, an interactive data visualization tool that allows users to filter and manipulate datasets.