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ConocoPhillips

Water Use and Quality

Water use in the oil sands is under increasing scrutiny by the public and regulators, making it a key issue for oil sands producers. Some of the concerns related to water use by steam-assisted gravity drainage producers include:

  • Cumulative effects of multiple oil sands projects drawing from water resources
  • Use of water to generate steam at in-situ operations
  • Risk of industrial activity impacting surface water or groundwater sources used for existing or future domestic or agricultural purposes

Water used for the production of bitumen in ConocoPhillips Canada’s Surmont Phase 1 steam-assisted gravity drainage operations is groundwater drawn from the Lower Grand Rapids formation, more than 150 metres below the surface. It contains water with 1,200 to 2,500 milligrams per litre of total dissolved solids per litre and a number of naturally occurring elements that make the water unfit for human consumption, agricultural or livestock purposes without extensive treatment. Water we use during bitumen production does not include surface water such as river water, lake water or water from shallow groundwater sources that are currently being used, or may be used, by municipalities, local landowners or agricultural operations.

We also use water to build ice roads in winter, for dust control in summer, to drill new water wells, to drill wells to increase our knowledge of the thickness and distribution or our bitumen reserves, and to drill wells to produce bitumen. For these purposes we use local surface water, for which licenses are obtained from Alberta Environment and Resource Development, as well as reused, treated water from our Surmont staff housing facility.

Water Use Cycle

In steam-assisted gravity drainage operations, source water is drawn from reservoirs located at depths greater than 150 metres below the surface, treated and used to generate steam. The steam is injected into the ground and most of the water is delivered back to the surface with the oil. This produced water is recycled and treated for reuse in steam generation to improve efficiency.

A small amount of water is consumed during the process and is replaced with makeup water to balance the cycle. One of the ways a small amount of water is consumed is through boiler blowdown, which is one of the byproducts of steam generation. Boiler blowdown is a waste fluid made up of water and a high concentration of dissolved and suspended solids. A portion of the boiler blowdown water is recycled and the remainder is treated and sent to a licensed disposal well, where it is disposed by deep well injection more than 300 metres below the surface. This complies with the strict Energy Resources Conservation Board regulations.

Changes in Water Use Regulations

In Alberta, water use for steam-assisted gravity drainage operations is regulated by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and the Energy Resources Conservation Board. Key regulations that provide regulatory guidance on water use have been revised in 2006, 2009 and 2012, with more revisions anticipated in 2013.

  • "Water Disposal Limits and Reporting Requirements for Thermal In Situ Oil Sands Schemes.". The Energy Resources Conservation Board has released Directive 81 in November 2012. The Directive sets water type specific disposal limits for in situ oil sands production, replacing the 2009 produced water recycle target of 90 percent. The Directive further sets requirements for water measurement and accuracy and injection facility water balances.
  • Water Conservation and Allocation Guideline for Oilfield Injection – Addendum for Thermal In Situ Projects.” Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has been working on an in situ specific guidance document after the 2009 joint Energy Resources Conservation Board and by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development draft directive “Requirements for Water Measurement, Reporting and Use for Thermal In-situ Oil Sands Schemes” was rescinded. In May 2012 a draft “Proponent Guidance on the Water Act Licensing Process and Requirements for Thermal In Situ Oil Sands Projects - An Addendum to the Water Conservation and Allocation Guideline for Oilfield Injection (2006)” was released for industry feedback. It is understood that this draft Addendum will be replaced in 2013 revised Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Oilfield Injection Policy for In Situ.
Last updated on October 7, 2013