Recycling is proving a star water use performer in Alberta's oil sands, with mineable and in situ oil sands recycling 80% of water used in their operations in 2016, but casting operational efficiencies in a bigger role will likely help produce even better results.
Recently released by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), the updated Alberta Energy Industry Water Use Report shows that oil and gas companies are using less water and improving recycling to develop Alberta’s oil sands.
How companies operate, project size and project age all influence water use, meaning any efficiencies gained can make a big difference given the enormous amounts of water being used. The energy sector accounts for about 10% of the Alberta allocation of 10,198,101,000 cubic metres (m3) of water.
Oil sands mining is allocated the most nonsaline water – which includes shallow groundwater or water taken from a lake, river or run-off collection pond – at 70.5% of the 998,738,855 m3 total energy sector allocation. Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is next at 10.4%, in situ at 7.7%, hydraulic fracturing at 6.6% and “other”, including pipeline integrity testing and hydrocarbon processing, at 4.8%.
AER data from 2016 indicates Alberta’s energy industry used approximately 22% of the nonsaline water allocated to them, an amount unchanged since 2013 despite aggregate hydrocarbon production increasing 44% over the same timeframe.
The improvement is likely thanks to new technologies and innovation. Consider that about 80% of nonsaline water used for oil sands mining was recycled from tailings ponds, while in situ recycled 86% by separating and treating water from producing wells. Other forms of recycling include make-up water, when nonsaline surface water and groundwater are added to water recycled from tailings ponds to replace water lost during processing.
All positive, but companies should explore other measures, including operational processes that use less water. "We believe that publicly reporting on water use holds companies accountable for their actions, encourages them to compare themselves against their peers, and motivates them to use water more efficiently," AER President and CEO Jim Ellis said.