David Pryce, Vice President, Western Canada Operations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Water has been a critical component in the extraction and processing of oil
and natural gas in Alberta since the early days of the province’s petroleum
Half the oil produced in Alberta is developed through methods that use water
to help bring oil to the surface. In fact, earlier government policy had encouraged
enhanced oil recovery and recognized water as the primary tool to do that. This
water-enhanced oil recovery generates more than $1 billion per year in royalties
for the province. Without the continued ability to access water in a responsible
manner for our activities, Alberta’s petroleum industry – and the
provincial treasury – would be significantly restricted.
However, we recognize the need to reconcile policies of enhanced oil recovery
and water conservation and support Alberta’s Water for Life strategy as
a means to develop a balance between these policies.
The Alberta government regulates how water is used, who uses it and how much
is used. Over the last decade, there has been continuous improvement in the
province’s regulations around water – most recently through the
Water for Life strategy – that has made Alberta one of the leading jurisdictions
in evolving water management regulation.
In Alberta, permits for water use are based on ensuring sustainable yield for
priority users – sustainability that must be proved through testing and
monitoring. The petroleum industry holds just 7.2 per cent of freshwater allocated
for consumption in Alberta – and uses less than half that allocation.
While we are not the biggest water user in the province, we recognize we have
the same responsibility as any user to conserve water as much as possible.
That’s why the oil and gas industry is working hard to ensure the long-term
viability of Alberta’s water resources – by reducing or minimizing
the amount of freshwater we use and implementing new technologies and improved
practices so the water we do use is used responsibly. It’s simply in our
best interests and the best interests of Albertans to ensure we collectively
manage Alberta’s water resource.
So, just what are we doing to reduce our need for freshwater?
Conservation efforts include increasing our use of saline water (non-potable
water unsuitable for drinking or agriculture) instead of freshwater, and pursuing
new technologies such as using CO2 injection instead of water to force oil to
the surface. Many oil sands projects continually recycle more than 90 per cent
of the water they use. And research continues on new ways to extract petroleum
resources that will further reduce the need for water.
Oil and gas development cannot take place in Alberta without strict measures
to maintain the integrity of water quality as well. When an oil or gas well
is drilled, thick cement and steel casing is placed around the pipe to prevent
hydrocarbons from moving into freshwater zones. Provincial guidelines also require
baseline testing of certain water wells to establish water quality – including
the presence or absence of naturally occurring methane – prior to natural
gas from coal drilling.
Through such baseline testing, as well as our regular exploration activities,
oil and gas companies are helping to increase understanding of the nature and
extent of the province’s groundwater resources. We are committed to our
efforts to protect both groundwater and surface water and believe our sector’s
initiatives should be part of the broader provincial effort involving all Alberta
water users, consistent with the Water for Life strategy.
We need to pursue initiatives that balance the need for the responsible use
of water by industries that create significant benefits for Albertans with the
need to maintain a robust and healthy water supply for future generations. By
working together with government and other stakeholders and by supporting the
best practices of our industry, we believe that balance is achievable.