Contamination Avoidance

Our industry is committed to safeguarding water resources by ensuring appropriate systems are in place to minimize the risk of contaminating natural water systems.

As part of regulations, oil and natural gas companies design and construct wells to protect groundwater resources from being contaminated through the drilling and operational phases of the well. For example, both conventional and tight oil and gas wells are engineered with a steel surface casing that is cemented externally to prevent any fluids from migrating from the wellbore to drinking water aquifers.

Baseline data collection is required in many of the jurisdictions where our members operate. For example, domestic water wells in close proximity to well pads are often sampled before drilling activity is to commence in Alberta and the results made available to residents. In British Columbia, operators are often required to install surface water quality monitoring equipment in the vicinity of hydraulic fracturing operations as a condition of licence approval. Oil sands producers and unconventional operators applying for water licences are required to conduct extensive water studies as part of the regulatory approval process, and must perform ongoing monitoring of surface and groundwater resources.

Hydraulic fracturing

In recent years, much attention has focused on the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater and drinking water wells. Regulations in British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick require disclosure of the specific chemical ingredients used during the hydraulic fracturing process.

Tailings ponds in mining operations

Tailings are the mixture of water, sand, clay and residual oil left over after oil sands processing. Tailings ponds are engineered dam and dyke systems designed to contain and settle the tailings. Tailings ponds allow the water to be clarified and recycled. Oil sands mining operations recycle about 80-95 per cent of the water they use.


Oil sands companies invest billions of dollars to reduce the size of tailings ponds and the time needed to return them to sustainable landscapes. In addition to their individual projects, companies have pooled intellectual property for the collective good under Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). In 2013 alone, COSIA members contributed more than $79 million to tailings management, research and development.

Read about COSIA Tailings Environmental Priority Area (EPA) focused on improving the management of oil sands tailings.