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Review of Water Use at Canada’s Oil Sands Points Toward Environmental Sustainability

Concerns have been expressed and published about the amount of water used in Canada’s oil-sands industry. The oil-sands deposits are geographically separated from population and agricultural centers in the province of Alberta and are within some of the most prolific river basins. Analysis shows that the amounts of water used by oil-sands operations are low and sustainable. A track record of continuous improvements at existing operations and the application of new technologies will maintain the sustainability into the future.

Introduction

Canada’s oil sands are in three deposits in northern Alberta (Fig. 1). The oil-sands deposits hold 1.8 trillion bbl of oil with 169 billion bbl of economically recoverable reserves. This represents 97% of Canada’s oil reserves, which are the third largest in the world.

The term “oil sands” is used to describe unconsolidated bituminous sands. The oil saturation in the sands has very high viscosity and is commonly called bitumen or tar. The deposits are found within the McMurray, Clearwater, and Grand Rapids formations of the Mannville group. They are of varying depth, from near surface in some parts of the Athabasca deposit to more than 300 m deep in the Peace River and Cold Lake deposits. Where the oil sands are shallower than 70 m, they may be mined by surface strip mining. This represents 3% of the surface area of the oil sands and 20% of the reserves. The remaining 80% of reserves across all three deposits are accessible only by use of in-situ recovery methods. Both mining and in-situ methods are water based.

This article, written by Editorial Manager Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 156676, “Water Use in Canada’s Oil-Sands Industry: The Facts,” by Stuart Lunn, Imperial Oil Resources, prepared for the 2012 SPE/APPEA International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, Perth, Australia, 11–13 September. The paper has not been peer reviewed.
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Review of Water Use at Canada’s Oil Sands Points Toward Environmental Sustainability

01 August 2013

Volume: 65 | Issue: 8

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