Updated December 2020
On this page, we provide the following performance data:
- enhanced oil recovery water use – sector summary
- enhanced oil recovery water use – company performance
Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) improves hydrocarbon recovery by injecting fluids into a hydrocarbon reservoir to add to 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, and
- non-thermal in situ, which extracts heavy oil or bitumen.
In the majority of EOR schemes, water is used as either the only injection fluid, carrying additives such as polymers or surfactants, or as a chase fluid, which follows the primary fluid to help push remaining oil towards the production wells. In situ EOR may also use fluids other than nonsaline waterto enhance production, such as polymers, non-condensable gases, or hydrocarbon gases.
What is “make-up” water for an EOR project?
Make-up water is nonsaline or alternative water that is added to replace the water injected into an oil reservoir that does not return to surface. It also replaces recycled water in some cases, as some produced water cannot be treated any further for reuse and must be disposed of as wastewater.
How do we measure performance?
The main metric used for comparing nonsaline water use performance is water use intensity. The intensity is calculated as the volume of nonsaline water used (in barrels) divided by the barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) produced in a calendar year. Nonsaline intensities will vary based on factors such as the type of fluid being injected, scheme age, and reservoir geology and characteristics.
All EOR schemes active in 2019 are considered in this report, regardless of their nonsaline water use.
How does the project life cycle affect water use intensity?
When it comes to EOR, nonsaline water use intensity is closely related to the age of the project. After EOR start-up, projects quickly transition from using mostly make-up water to using predominantly recycled produced water. However, as schemes age, hydrocarbon production starts to decrease, which can result in increased nonsaline water use intensity. Generally speaking, the longer an EOR project has been operating, the higher its nonsaline water use intensity is.
There are several other reasons why an older scheme may have a higher nonsaline water use 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. As a result, infrastructure may have been built to standards unsuitable for handling alternatives to nonsaline water.
- Over time, as hydrocarbon production typically decreases at an EOR scheme, so to does revenue. Costs to convert to alternative water sources may be uneconomical.
- Companies may have historical water licences that don’t 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 if nonsaline water sources are both abundant and nearby, provided that they can sustain the operation while posing low risk to the local environment.
Companies have made efforts to use less nonsaline water use across all ages of EOR schemes.
EOR operators used roughly 10 per cent of their nonsaline water allocation in 2019.
The map below shows where EOR operators are using nonsaline water as a source of make-up water in Alberta. Zoom in to reveal more.
Total Water Use
Nearly 895 EOR schemes injected water in 2019, but only 17 per cent used nonsaline water. Similar to other extraction technologies, EOR requires make-up water because not all water used during operations can be recovered.
Directive 065: Resources Applications for Oil and Gas Reservoirs outlines nonsaline water use and requires operators to fully investigate alternatives to nonsaline water and to submit evidence to the AER that there are no practical alternative water sources before resorting to nonsaline water. However, alternative water sources aren’t always available, and some older projects are unable to handle saline or recycled water. As well, highly saline water can lower a product’s quality. Some polymer EOR operations use specialized compounds that are very sensitive to the quality of water used; in those cases, use of alternative water sources is not always feasible. These factors can affect the amount of nonsaline water an operation uses.
In 2019, EOR operations used almost 214 million cubic metres of water to produce nearly 109 million barrels of oil equivalent. Of the total water used, nearly 94 per cent (201 million cubic metres) was recycled, and the rest was make-up water.
EOR companies used over 2.7 million cubic metres of alternative make-up water in 2019, which included saline groundwater and produced water from other nearby EOR schemes.
In 2019, just over 13 million cubic metres of make-up water was used for EOR, with nonsaline water accounting for about 80 per cent and alternative sources accounting for about 20 per cent.
Overall, make-up water use has declined almost 45 per cent since 2015, in line with the decline in total water use; the proportions of nonsaline and alternative water have been relatively stable over that period.
Water Use Intensity
Water use intensity refers to the amount of nonsaline water used to produce one barrel of oil equivalent (BOE). In 2019, EOR used over 10 million cubic metres of nonsaline water (10 per cent of the nonsaline water allocated for EOR) to produce nearly 109 million BOE. This means that for every one BOE produced, EOR used 0.60 barrels of nonsaline water.
Between 2015 and 2019, nonsaline water use for EOR decreased by 36 per cent while production decreased by 15 per cent, resulting in a 24 per cent improvement in nonsaline water use intensity. These changes are mainly due to reduced EOR activity across the province.
In the following charts, 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 experience and expertise based on their annual hydrocarbon production. In the graphs below, companies are sorted by their BOE production over the calendar year. The graphs default to display all companies; this can be changed by using the “Company volume” filter.
The tool below can be used to search the company volume for a specific company.
Water Use Intensity
When it comes to EOR, a small number of operations can make a big difference in the sector’s overall performance. For example, the top three projects in terms of nonsaline water use accounted for 41 per cent of the total nonsaline water volume for EOR in 2019, likely because of the large scale of these operations, 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.
Below, overall nonsaline water use intensity for EOR is shown by company.
An EOR scheme’s age has a noticeable effect on nonsaline water use intensity. The average nonsaline water use intensity by age in 2019 is shown in the chart to your left below.
The chart below provides various details on water use and hydrocarbon production by company.
Five-Year Trend Data
To track performance over time, the charts below show five-year trend data on companies’ water use, hydrocarbon production, and nonsaline water use intensity.