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Water Use

Water is not only a resource, it is essential to life. We all share the responsibility to ensure a healthy, secure and sustainable water supply for our communities, environment, and economy – our quality of life depends on it.

How the Industry Uses Water

The oil and natural gas industry uses water in many ways. The industry is finding new ways to use non-potable water (not fit for drinking) such as saline water, to reduce the need to use fresh water.

  • In oil sands mining, non-potable hot water is used to separate bitumen from sand and clay.
  • In oil sands in situ operations, steam is generated to heat the bitumen underground, allowing it to flow to the surface.
  • In older, conventional fields involving enhanced oil recovery, water is pumped down the well to force the oil out of cracks and pores in the rock so the oil can be pumped to the surface.
  • In hydraulic fracturing, water is pumped at high pressure into tight formations to open fractures in the rock, allowing natural gas and crude oil to flow to a well for recovery. Increasingly, the industry is using saline water, even municipal wastewater instead of fresh water.
  • Once a well is producing, water may be used for dust control or for washing equipment.
  • Water is also used for construction purposes such as freezing winter roads.

Kristyn is Helping Water go Further, Figuratively and Literally

How Much Water is Used for Oil and Natural Gas Development?

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

Minimizing Water Use

Industry is focusing on increasing use of alternatives and reducing the amount of surface water and groundwater used in hydraulic fracturing and other operations. Low-quality or otherwise unusable sources of water, such as saline groundwater, flowback, produced water and municipal wastewater, are used where possible. New hydraulic fracturing technologies are also being developed that require less water.

An example of industry best practices for effective water management is the work done by Shell Canada Energy. Shell is reducing its overall fresh water footprint and ensuring minimal impact to other water users of the watershed and community from its oil and natural gas operations. In addition to continually looking at ways to reduce overall water demand through completion design and water reuse, Shell entered into an agreement with the Town of Fox Creek to use the town’s treated wastewater in its completions operations. In return for the use of the water, Shell funded the engineering and design to upgrade the town’s raw water facilities. This alternative source of water is a key component of Shell’s overall water strategy in the Fox Creek area and replaces the use of approximately 400,000 cubic metres of fresh water a year.

Water Priorities

Canada’s oil and natural gas industry adheres to regulations and is committed to safeguarding water resources by ensuring appropriate systems are in place to minimize the risk of contaminating natural water systems.

A challenge facing the industry is to reduce fresh water use per barrel of oil or natural gas produced, called water use intensity. The majority of water used by industry can be recycled and reused multiple times, thereby reducing the demand for fresh water from natural sources. Research and development of technologies to improve water reuse and recycling rates remains a priority.

Oil and natural gas operators in Canada support sound scientific data collection and are collaborating with each other, with government, communities and scientists to acquire this data. These activities improve knowledge and management of regional surface water and groundwater resources.

The Water Technology Development Centre

Basil, a biochemical engineer working in Canada's oil sands industry, explains how he is helping build the Water Technology Development Centre in northeastern Alberta. The facility will allow operators to efficiently test the development and implementation of new water treatment technologies in the industry.