Alberta’s oil sands production requires significant volumes of water. Oil sands mining operations require an average of 2.5 barrels of water for every barrel of bitumen produced, and in-situ operations require an average of 0.5 barrels of water for every barrel of bitumen produced. In 2013, the industry withdrew approximately 200 million cubic meters of non-saline water from ground water sources as well as the Athabasca River. The Athabasca River remains the main source of fresh water for mining projects. Oil sands production typically recycles 80-95% of water used and there are efforts and regulations in place to further reduce overall water use. Without adequate water sources, the oil sands industry will suffer. The management of the Athabasca watershed has important environmental and economic implications for all Canadians.
Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is a consortium of oil sands producers with a commitment to achieving significant improvements in our environmental, social and economic performance in developing Canada’s oil sands. Alberta WaterSMART has been involved in the COSIA Water Environmental Priority Area (EPA) since its inception and has helped contribute to its successes. The Water EPA is well on its way to fostering innovation and sustainable water solutions through sharing knowledge and best practices, bringing together divergent interests, and encouraging dialogue.
COSIA’s Water EPA is seeking innovative solutions to reduce water use and increase water recycling in oil sands mining and in-situ operations. The Mining Water EPA Team is looking to reduce net water use intensity from the Athabasca River and its tributaries by 30% by 2022. The In-Situ Water EPA Team is aiming to reduce freshwater use intensity by 50% by 2022. The following are some specific projects that Alberta WaterSMART is involved in that support these goals.
Water Technology Development Centre
COSIA member companies Canadian Natural, Devon, Nexen, Shell Energy, and Suncor, along with project member company Husky have been working together since 2009 to create a technology centre with the mandate to accelerate the development and commercialization of technologies needed to improve water treatment, recycling and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) for in-situ oil sands operations. The project has completed front-end engineering and is expected to become operational in 2017. Achievements of this project to date include:
- Developed a compelling business case for the centre
- Established an experienced and collaborative technical team
- Completed the design basis and cost estimate for the centre
- Determined the location of the centre to be at Suncor Energy’s Firebag facility, and
- Initiated the construction phase.
This $165 million centre will test technologies and practices to reduce water use in Alberta’s oil sands. The WTDC will also manage waste products from water treatment and reduce industry’s water footprint.
Best Practices for Design and Operations
Both existing and new oil sands in-situ companies possess a wealth of knowledge in the effective design, construction and operation of oil sands water systems. The Best Practices project brings together the oil sands in-situ companies to share their practices and technologies and accelerate the dissemination of practices, knowledge and information. The goal is to improve operation and reliability of oil sands facilities which will ultimately improve environmental performance. The project works with individuals in engineering, management, and operations inside the member companies to:
- Identify and provide guidance on technologies and practices to improve environmental performance
- Provide a forum for operators and engineers to ask questions, share ideas, and network
- Provide an opportunity for participants to provide areas of focus, topics of discussion, and problem areas that can be addressed in future projects, and
- Network with peers to share problems, experiences, and novel ideas to improve environmental performance through plant performance optimization.