The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) will make a presentation to the federal Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development at hearings in Alberta on May 13, 2009.
"We understand that Canadians are very interested in the use and quality of Canada's water resources," said CAPP President David Collyer. "It is therefore important and appropriate that the federal government, industry and all stakeholders engage in a discussion about water use in the oil sands, based on facts and addressing key issues and areas of concern."
CAPP's presentation will focus on current research findings in relation to water use in the oil sands and regional water quality, including the Athabasca River. Committee questions regarding both mining operations and insitu operations (oil sands produced using conventional drilling technologies) will be addressed, as will government regulations and public concerns around tailings facilities. In addition to presenting to the committee, CAPP provides extensive background information on water use in the oil sands on its website at www.capp.ca .
Please see a Backgrounder information below.
Backgrounder - Athabasca River Water
- The total amount of water currently allocated to the oil and gas sector from the Athabasca River is 2.2 per cent of the river's natural flow.
- The total amount used in 2007 was less than 1% (2008 figures are not yet available). The maximum amount of water that could be used, if all projects currently being considered were to be developed, is less than 3 per cent. Water use is restricted further during the Athabasca River's low-flow periods.
- In some cases oil sands producers are recycling upwards of 90 per cent of water used in production. Over 80% of the oil sands resource is in situ, meaning it will be recovered through wells.
- In situ projects do not draw water directly from the Athabasca River, and where feasible, they use saline or brackish water from underground aquifers. Some projects, such as Devon's Jackfish project use 100% saline water.
Water Quality Monitoring
As part of an industry commitment to compliance and continuous improvement, the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP), an industry-funded, multi-stakeholder environmental monitoring program, was initiated in 1997. RAMP integrates aquatic monitoring activities across different components of the aquatic environment, different geographic locations, and Athabasca oil sands and other developments in the Athabasca oil sands region, so that long-term trends, regional issues and potential cumulative effects related to oil sands and other developments can be identified and addressed. For more than a decade, detailed measurements have been taken both upstream and downstream of oil sands developments.
- RAMP has detected no impacts to the Athabasca River ecosystem due to oil sands production.
- Note that bitumen from exposed oil sands along the river banks seeps naturally into the Athabasca River as it cuts its way thought the landscape. As a result, natural water quality includes measureable hydrocarbon compounds. But aquatic monitoring in the Athabasca River has shown no impacts associated with oil sands development.
- Most tailings ponds are located more than one kilometer from the Athabasca River. Ongoing testing supports the view that seepage, to the extent that it might occur, is at low quantities over very long periods of time.
- Government, public and industry standards are high, in Alberta, nationally and globally. In fact, current regulations and regulatory approval process provide the necessary and appropriate levels of environmental protection with respect to the siting, management and reclamation of tailings ponds.
- The federal and provincial regulatory processes are transparent, and the industry meets or exceeds all government standards. National and provincial regulatory frameworks in Canada are among the most stringent in the world, and Alberta Environment prohibits the release of any water into the Athabasca River that does not meet water quality requirements. In short, the rules are tough, and getting tougher.
New Tailings Technologies
- Extensive research on tailings has been conducted since the 1960s and the industry continues to develop better technologies and approaches to tailings management in order to further reduce the environmental impact of tailings. Various new technologies are currently under development that will enable existing oil sands mines (not just future developments) to comply with the Directive.
These technologies include:
- Mixing tailings with gypsum, lime, polymers or CO2 which collapses the structure of the clays and releases the water, thereby speeding up the reclamation cycle.
Mechanical tailings thickeners or centrifuges also reduce the water content of the fine tailings.
Dry tailings processing.