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Updated December 2021


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 identify where there is room for improvement.

Our Alberta 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 report provides information about water allocation and use for four oil and gas extraction technologies:

  • oil sands mining
  • in situ operations
  • enhanced oil recovery
  • hydraulic fracturing

Because the volume of water used for conventional oil and gas drilling and operations is typically quite small, it is not discussed in the report. Water used for refining and processing activities is also not included in the report.

Report Highlights

  • Across the Alberta energy industry, companies are using much less nonsaline water than what is allocated to them.
  • Only 13 per cent of nonsaline water allocated to all industries in the province was allocated for oil and gas extraction, and the industry used only 26 per cent of their allocation.
  • Every technology used to recover Alberta's energy resources requires a combination of nonsaline and alternative water.
  • Twenty-three per cent of the water used by the oil and gas industry in 2020 was nonsaline and alternative make-up water. The remaining 77 per cent of the water used for energy development was recycled.
  • Nonsaline water use intensity across the energy industry has increased by 30 per cent since 2016. Because the oil sands mining sector uses over 80 per cent of the nonsaline water used, its water use intensity drives the industry average. In 2020, oil sands mining used more nonsaline water than in previous years because of the large amount of precipitation in the region, producing more surface runoff to manage on site. In addition, production decreased because of the global decline in oil demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, nonsaline water use intensity increased in the oil sands mining sector.
  • The five-year average (2016 to 2020) for nonsaline water use intensity in the oil sands mining sector was 2.54 barrels of nonsaline water per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE). Water use intensity for oil sands mining increased by 19 per cent from 2016 to 2020. In 2020, 73 per cent of the total water used for oil sands mining was recycled water, and 57 per cent of the make-up water came from surface runoff and groundwater from within the mining footprint. Recycling water and using surface runoff and groundwater reduces the amount of water withdrawn from the Athabasca River.
  • The five-year average for nonsaline water use intensity for hydraulic fracturing was 0.60 barrels of nonsaline water per BOE. Hydraulically fractured wells use water when the well is initially fractured, but usually, none after the well starts producing hydrocarbons. Therefore, water intensity goes down over time.
  • The five-year average for nonsaline water use intensity for enhanced oil recovery was 0.69 barrels of nonsaline water per BOE. Enhanced oil recovery producers have shown a 10 per cent decrease in the technology's nonsaline water use intensity over the past five years.
  • The five-year average for nonsaline water use intensity for in situ operations was 0.20 barrels of nonsaline water per BOE, which is a 10 per cent decrease from 2016. This reduction is due to high rates of produced water recycling and alternative water source use.

The figure below shows the five-year average for nonsaline water use intensity for the extraction technologies discussed.

Water User Intensity 2020