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Updated December 2023


On this page, we provide the following performance data:

Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) improves hydrocarbon recovery by injecting fluids into a hydrocarbon reservoir to increase or maintain reservoir pressure, displace hydrocarbons to production wells, or alter reservoir fluids to improve hydrocarbon flow.

There are two types of EOR projects:

  • conventional, which extracts crude oil
  • nonthermal in situ, which extracts heavy oil or bitumen

In most EOR schemes, water is used as the only injection fluid to carry additives, such as polymers or surfactants, or as a chase fluid that follows the primary fluid to help push remaining oil towards the production wells. In situ EOR may also use fluids other than nonsaline water to enhance production, such as polymers, noncondensable gases, or hydrocarbon gases.

What is "make-up" water for an EOR project?

Make-up water is nonsaline or alternative water added to replace the water injected into an oil reservoir that does not return to surface. It may also replace recycled water because some produced water cannot be treated for further reuse and must be disposed of as wastewater.

How do we measure performance?

The primary metric for comparing nonsaline water use performance is water use intensity (calculated as the volume of nonsaline water used in barrels divided by the barrels of oil equivalent (BOE)  produced in a calendar year). Nonsaline water intensity varies based on the fluid type injected, the scheme age, and the reservoir’s geology and characteristics.

All EOR schemes active in 2022 are considered in this report, regardless of their nonsaline water use.

How does the project life cycle affect water use intensity?

Nonsaline water use intensity is closely related to the age of the EOR project. After start-up, EOR projects quickly transition from using mostly make-up water to mostly recycled produced water. However, as schemes age, hydrocarbon production starts to decrease, which can result in increased nonsaline water use intensity. Generally, the longer an EOR project operates, the higher its nonsaline water intensity.

There are several other reasons why an older EOR scheme might have a higher nonsaline water intensity, not all related to where the schemes are in their life cycle:

  • The scheme may have been built when nonsaline water use was of less concern. Consequently, infrastructure may have been built to standards unsuitable for handling alternatives to nonsaline water.
  • Over time, as hydrocarbon production typically decreases, so too does revenue. Costs to convert to alternative water sources may be uneconomical.
  • Companies may have water licences that do not expire and allow for ongoing use of nonsaline water sources.
  • As a scheme matures, more water is needed to maintain the reservoir pressure to sustain hydrocarbon production.
  • The type of EOR scheme (e.g., polymer floods) may require some nonsaline water as some polymers are very sensitive to water quality.

Using nonsaline water for EOR instead of alternative water can be a practical choice when abundant nonsaline water sources nearby can sustain the operation with little risk to the local environment.

Companies have made efforts to use less nonsaline water across all ages of EOR schemes.

Enhanced Oil Recovery Water Use – Sector Summary

EOR operators used about 9% of their nonsaline water allocation in 2022 (see the following figure).


Total Water Use

In 2022, there were 835 EOR schemes in Alberta, of which 699 were injecting water. Only 98 (14% of the 699) schemes used nonsaline water. Like other extraction technologies, EOR requires make-up water because not all water used during operations is recoverable.

Directive 065: Resources Applications for Oil and Gas Reservoirs and Manual 025: Applications under the Water Conservation Policy for Upstream Oil and Gas Operations outline nonsaline water use requirements. Before resorting to using nonsaline water, operators must investigate nonsaline water alternatives and submit evidence to the AER confirming no practical alternative water sources are available. Operators must also submit environmental net effects assessments and risk assessments outlined in table 1 of Manual 025. However, alternative water sources are not always available, and some older projects cannot handle saline or recycled water. Also, highly saline water can lower a product's quality. Some EOR operations use specialized polymers that are very sensitive to water quality. In those cases, using alternative water sources is not always feasible. These factors can affect the amount of nonsaline water an operation uses.

In 2022, EOR operations used more than 197 million cubic metres (m3) of water to produce almost 105 million BOE (see the following figure). Of the total water used, over 94% (186 million m3) was recycled, and the rest was make-up water.

Total water use has declined by 32% since 2013.

Make-up Water

In 2022, EOR companies used just over 11 million m3 of make-up water. Companies used 8.5 million m3 of nonsaline make-up water (75% of total make-up water) and 2.8 million m3 of alternative make-up water (25% of total make-up water). Alternative make-up water includes saline groundwater and produced water from other nearby EOR schemes.

Overall, make-up water use has declined 49% since 2013, in line with the decline in total water use (the proportion of nonsaline and alternative water has been relatively stable over that period).

Water Use Intensity

Water use intensity refers to the amount of nonsaline water used to produce one BOE. In 2022, EOR companies used about 9% (8.5 million m3) of the nonsaline water allocated, producing over 105 million BOE. EOR used 0.51 barrels of nonsaline water per BOE.

Between 2013 and 2022, nonsaline make-up water use for EOR decreased by 56%, while production decreased by 20%, resulting in a 46% improvement in nonsaline water use intensity. These changes are mainly due to reduced EOR activity across the province and a reduction in nonsaline water use. While nonsaline make-up water use decreased by 56%, alternative make-up water use remained relatively stable (4% reduction).

Enhanced Oil Recovery Water Use – Company Performance

In the following figures, operations that don't use nonsaline water will show as having zero nonsaline water use intensity. These operations may still use recycled water or alternatives to nonsaline water.

To make meaningful comparisons, we compare the data of companies with similar experiences and expertise based on their annual hydrocarbon production. In the figures below, companies are sorted by their BOE production over the calendar year. The figures default to display all companies, which can be changed using the "Company size" filter.

Use the tool below to search the company size by production volume for a specific company.

Water Use Intensity

A small number of operations can make a big difference in the EOR sector's overall performance. For example, two projects accounted for 63% of the total nonsaline make-up water volume for EOR in 2022, likely because of their large scale, including the large number of injection wells they have.

We also see this reflected in the nonsaline water use intensity of companies operating multiple schemes. A single scheme with a high nonsaline water use intensity can disproportionally affect a company's overall water use intensity, overshadowing the company's schemes with low water use intensities.

The following figure shows the overall nonsaline water use intensity for EOR by company.

An EOR scheme's age has a noticeable effect on nonsaline water use intensity. The average nonsaline water use intensity by age for all EOR companies for 2022 is shown in the left-hand figure below. Select a company size, company name, or scheme type from the filters, and you will see the nonsaline water use intensity in the right-hand figure below based on your selection. This makes it possible to compare the water use intensity for specific sizes, companies, or scheme types to the average for the EOR sector.

The following figure provides details on water use and hydrocarbon production by company. Select a company size, company name, scheme type, or age from the filters, and you will see the water use, production, and intensity in the figure below based on your selection. The figure may be sorted by company name or fields (water use intensity, production, or water volumes).

Ten-Year Trend Data

The following figures show ten-year trend data on water use, hydrocarbon production, and nonsaline water use intensity.