Water is essential for all life on Earth, so ensuring the conservation and quality of our nation’s water resource is critical. Water availability and quality are of increasing concern for many Canadians, and access to clean water maintains the health of people and the ability of businesses to operate.
Water is also an essential component in resource production for both conventional as well as non-conventional operations.
We continually seek ways to reduce water use and preserve water quality through the design and operation of our facilities, recycling and reuse, and measures to prevent water pollution.
For example, the heavy oil deposits found at our Cold Lake operation require large amounts of steam injected underground to heat the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.
Our continuous improvement strategies to create new, more efficient and environmentally effective technologies at Cold Lake have reduced the amount of fresh water used to produce a barrel of bitumen by almost 90 percent since the project’s inception in the 1970s. In addition, approximately 95 percent of the water that is recovered from oil production is treated, recycled and re-injected as steam, significantly reducing the freshwater requirement.
Alberta Environment, which regulates freshwater use, has established a target to increase water-use efficiency by 30 percent in all sectors by 2015. In our latest water licence-renewal application for Cold Lake, we committed to advance projects which, if successful, will reduce the amount of fresh water used to produce a barrel of bitumen by up to 30 percent from current levels by implementing conservation measures within the 2010 to 2015 term of our renewed Water Act licence.
Managing water use in the oil sands
The Alberta government sets limits on how much water oil sands mining companies can remove from the Athabasca River, which flows through the oil sands region near Fort McMurray. The Athabasca has one of the lowest industrial allocations of water of any river in Alberta and one of the largest flows. Total allocation to industry is less than three percent of the river’s flow and less than two percent is used annually. To put this in perspective, currently 60 percent of the flow of the South Saskatchewan River basin, which includes the Bow River flowing through Calgary, is allocated to all industrial users.
However, during the winter when river flows are low, water consumption from the river is limited by the government framework to five to 10 percent of actual flow. Imperial has been a key driver in a co-operative program involving the major oil sands companies in the area. These companies have committed to preserving acceptable flow rates in the river, as set out in the government’s water management framework.
For more information about Imperial’s approach to water use and water quality, please click here to read our Corporate Citizenship Report.