Athabasca oilsands operations hit by water shortages
Low river flows result in licence suspensions in northern Alberta
It's wreaked havoc on crops and shut down fisheries across Alberta, but now the hot dry weather and ensuing stresses on our rivers have hit the oilsands.
- Fishing areas closed by province as heat, low water threaten species
- Melting glaciers and drought in Alberta's future
This week the Alberta Energy Regulator reined in oil companies by imposing restrictions on how much water they can draw from the North Athabasca basin.
Those in the lower Athabasca region — including heavy hitters Suncor, Syncrude and CNRL — are not affected by the restrictions.
'Preview of the future'
Simon Donner says a University of British Columbia study he helped to write predicted this would happen.
He says this year's low flows are the result of both climate change and a strong El Nino event that's developing.
"With regulators this week deciding they need to put restrictions on water withdrawals from the Athabasca because of low flows, well that's exactly what the study says is going to be a very frequent occurrence by mid-century. So this really is a preview of the future," he said.
The regulator suspended 73 temporary licences to take water from the Athabasca and Peace rivers due to water flows. Alberta Environment data shows the water levels have been low enough to restrict industrial withdrawal from the river since July 9.
Oilsands operators say they are taking steps to reduce their dependence on the Athabasca.
Imperial Oil's Kearl facility stores three months worth of extra water according to the company, while Suncor says its withdrawals have declined by about 57 per cent since 2007.