February 22, 2018 - 12:30 PM EST
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Updated AER water use report shows companies are using less

CALGARY, Alberta, Feb. 22, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- An updated water use report shows that oil and gas companies are using less water and improving recycling to develop Alberta’s oil sands. In fact, mineable and in situ oil sands each recycled about 80 per cent of the water used in their operations in 2016. But for the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), recycling is just one measure of water use performance.

“Albertans depend on us to make sure that energy companies are using water responsibly,” said Jim Ellis, the AER’s president and CEO. “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.”

Ellis added that “sharing this information also helps us inform Albertans about the steps companies are taking to innovate and invest in technology to reduce the amount of water they need to support their operations.”

Here are five things to know about the Alberta Energy Industry Water Use Report:

  1. Show me the data. The report has been updated and now includes data by company for oil sands mining and in situ. Future updates to the report will include company data for hydraulic fracturing and enhanced oil recovery.

  2. One is not like the other. Water use performance is more than examining which company uses the least amount and which company recycles the most. It’s also important to look at how each company operates (e.g. mining or in situ) and at the size and age of their projects because each factor affects their water use.

  3. Less is more. Over time, companies have reduced the amount of water they need because of new technologies and innovation. In 2016, about 80 per cent of water used for oil sands mining was recycled from tailings ponds, while in situ recycled 86 per cent by separating and treating water from producing wells.

  4. A drop in the bucket. While recycling plays a large role in the industry, companies can also find ways to use less water by improving their operations over time as we noted in our 2017 industry water use report.

  5. Performance matters. The report is part of our industry performance program, which measures, evaluates, and reports on energy development activities we regulate. Check out our backgrounder to learn more on how we measure water use performance. 

The AER ensures the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of hydrocarbon resources over their entire life cycle. This includes allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment while providing economic benefits for all Albertans.


A new water use report issued by the Alberta Energy Regulator shows that oil and gas companies are using less water and improving recycling to develop Alberta’s oil sands. A full report is available on aer.ca. 

For more information, please contact:

Jordan Fitzgerald, AER Public Affairs
Phone: 403-297-6266
Email: [email protected]
Media line: 1-855-474-6356


Explaining water use performance

Water use performance is about more than looking at who uses the least or who recycles the most. It’s about looking at each company, how they operate (e.g., mining or in situ), and the size and age of their projects. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking at performance.

Oil Sands Mining

Because every mineable oil sands operation is unique, we looked at nonsaline water use intensity (i.e., the amount of nonsaline water needed to produce one barrel of oil equivalent [BOE]) and recycling as measures of performance for the five years from 2012 through 2016.

  • Albian Sands and Suncor had the lowest nonsaline water use intensities, averaging 2.0 and 1.8 barrels of nonsaline make-up water per BOE produced, respectively.

  • CNRL Horizon had the highest nonsaline water use intensity, averaging 3.6 barrels of nonsaline make-up water per BOE produced.

  • Syncrude recycled the most water, averaging 239 million cubic metres; Suncor recycled the least, averaging 61 million cubic metres.

  • Although Suncor recycled the least, it also had the lowest water use intensity over the same five-year period, showing how performance can be measured in many ways.

Learn more in our water use report for oil sands mining.

In Situ

Every in situ project is different, and there is no single way to measure performance. However, older fully operational projects require less nonsaline water because larger amounts of it return to the surface and can be recycled by companies. To show the difference, here’s how projects of different ages compared in terms of nonsaline water use intensity in 2016.

  • Projects that started production in 2003 or earlier, such as Cenovus Foster Creek, Suncor MacKay River, and Imperial Cold Lake, had average intensities of 0.07, 0.20, and 0.21 barrels of nonsaline make-up water per BOE produced in 2016.

  • Newer projects, such as Husky Sunrise and Athabasca Hangingstone, which started production in 2015, had average water use intensities of 1.42 and 0.59 barrels of nonsaline make-up water per BOE produced in 2016.

Learn more in our water use report for in situ.

Make-up Water

What is “make-up” water?

Water (nonsaline or saline groundwater) that is added to facilities to help process oil sands; typically accounts for water that is lost during processing.

How is make-up water used?

Oil sands mining: Added to facilities to produce bitumen. For example, make-up water can be added to recycled water from tailings ponds. Most make-up water for oil sands mining is nonsaline, and most mining projects use the Athabasca River as the source because it is close by.

In situ: Accounts for water that cannot be reused by in situ companies because it has not returned to the surface or is lost while being treated. Make-up water for in situ can be nonsaline or saline.

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Source: GlobeNewswire (February 22, 2018 - 12:30 PM EST)

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