Protecting water resources is a priority for Canada’s oil and natural gas industry.

Canadians place a high value on the country’s freshwater resources. They want to know the industry is using water responsibly and managing impacts on water use, quality and availability. Canada’s oil and natural gas industry safeguards water resources through efficient use and ensures appropriate systems are in place to minimize risks.

Responsible Water Use

Water use during oil and natural gas production is licensed through provincial regulators. Water withdrawals are reported to and monitored by provincial regulators to prevent water pollution and protect the integrity of natural water systems, especially during low flow periods or drought conditions.


Water plays an important role in unconventional oil and natural gas development. When a well is drilled, water is used to cool and lubricate the drill bit, and to move rock cuttings away from the drill bit and up to the surface. If the natural gas and oil trapped in the rock cannot flow easily to the surface, the well is completed with hydraulic fracturing that also uses large volumes of water.

Hydraulic Fracturing Water Usage

The volume of water used in hydraulic fracturing depends on the well and the geological formation. On average, a fracturing operation takes 5,000-30,000 cubic metres of water. Water is sourced from fresh surface water or groundwater, or alternative sources such as saline water, non-potable groundwater, flowback, produced water and municipal or industrial waste water.

A small lake, surrounded by a beautiful forest, showing the importance of protecting Canada's water resources.

Protecting Canada's Water Resources

Canada’s oil and natural gas industry recycles water and continues to look for ways to reduce fresh water use. The industry is working to recycle and reduce as much water within operations as possible, and – through organizations like Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) – producers are researching new ways to reduce fresh water use even further.

A male and female oil and gas worker monitoring water resources at a site in the middle of a grassy field.

Monitoring Water Quality in the Oil Sands

Oil sands projects are required to conduct extensive water studies and monitor both surface and groundwater that may be impacted by operations. Mining and in situ operations are carefully managed to avoid affecting the quality of surface water (rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and other fresh water sources) and groundwater. Water data is collected through various federal and provincial agencies to detect any effects of oil sands development on water quality. The Government of Alberta has been monitoring water quality in the region since the early 1970s.

Two environmentalists in safety apparel assess a flowing river and its Artic Grayling population.

Monitoring the Athabasca River

The Athabasca River is one of the most intensely monitored bodies of water in the world, to ensure that water quality and flow rates are not compromised by industrial operations. The river has always had measurable levels of naturally occurring hydrocarbons, because bitumen from exposed oil sands along the riverbank seeps naturally into the river as it cuts its way through the landscape. The aquatic ecosystem in the Athabasca River has adapted to this natural environment. Canada’s oil sands industry is always looking for ways to improve the recycling technology and reduce their water footprint.

Basil is Developing Water Saving Technology

The Water Technology Development Centre will allow operators to test drive more technologies, and to test those technologies faster than ever before.