Updated December 2020
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 in the province. 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 includes information about water allocation and use by four main oil and gas extraction technologies:
Because the amount of water used for conventional oil and gas drilling and operations is typically quite small, you won't find them discussed in the report. Water used for refining and processing activities is also not included in the report.
- 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 20 per cent of their allocation.
- Every technology used to recover Alberta's energy resources requires a combination of nonsaline and alternative water.
- Nineteen per cent of the water used by industry in 2019 was nonsaline or alternative make-up water. The remaining 81 per cent of the total amount of water used for energy development was recycled.
- Nonsaline water use intensity across the energy industry has increased by 3 per cent since 2015. Because the oil sands mining sector accounts for over 80 per cent of the used nonsaline water, its intensity drives the industry average and was responsible for this marginal overall increase. Oil sands mining used less water in 2019 than the year previous despite increased production, resulting in a decrease in water use intensity compared to 2018.
- The average nonsaline water use intensity for the oil sands mining sector was 2.18 barrels of nonsaline water per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) in 2019. However, 78 per cent of the total water used for oil sands mining was recycled water, and 30 per cent of the make-up water came from surface runoff and groundwater within the mining footprint. Using recycled water, on-site surface runoff, and groundwater offsets the amount of water that is withdrawn from the Athabasca River.
- The average nonsaline water use intensity for hydraulic fracturing was 0.57 barrels of nonsaline water per BOE in 2019. Water is used when a well is initially fractured, but usually is not needed after the well starts producing hydrocarbons; therefore, water use intensity goes down over the long-term production from hydraulically fractured wells.
- The average nonsaline water use intensity for enhanced oil recovery was 0.60 barrels of nonsaline water per BOE in 2019. Enhanced oil recovery producers have shown a 24 per cent improvement in the technology's nonsaline water use intensity over the last five years.
- The average nonsaline water use intensity for in situ operations was 0.20 barrels of nonsaline water per BOE in 2019, which is similar to 2018. This is due to high rates of produced water recycling and alternative water source use.
The figure below illustrates the five-year average nonsaline water use intensity for the extraction technologies discussed.