Protecting the environment, including water, is part of our mandate. Therefore, any energy resource development that involves water is under our authority. Oil and gas companies in Alberta use water in a variety of activities; we work hard to ensure that these companies use and manage water safely and responsibly.
We do this by
- reviewing all energy development applications under the Water Act;
- ensuring companies have our approval before they use water to develop resources; and
- conducting inspections, audits, and performance reviews to ensure that our rules are followed.
Decisions around water use for other purposes, including municipalities, agriculture, and forestry, are made by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). Learn more about our Water Act responsibilities.
How do energy companies use water?
In Alberta, two types of water are commonly used by energy companies—nonsaline and alternative. Companies must apply for our approval before using nonsaline water in their operations. They do not have to apply to use alternative water, but they must report how much they’re using.
About 10 per cent of all water allocated by AEP in 2016 was allocated to the energy industry. The remaining 90 per cent was allocated to other users such as agriculture, forestry, commercial (e.g., golf courses and gravel pit operations), and municipalities.
Of the water allocated to the energy industry, over 70 per cent was used in oil sands mining, and the remaining portion was used in enhanced oil recovery, hydraulic fracturing, or in situ recovery operations, or for other uses.
How We Make Decisions on Water Use
Companies applying to use water must disclose details including the
- water bodies they are taking water from,
- amount of water they need and why,
- rate at which they will take the water,
- how long they need to use the water, and
- what exactly they need the water for.
We share all Water Act applications for 30 days on our Public Notice of Application page and encourage public participation in our review process.
Our specialists—hydrologists, hydrogeologists, limnologists, and fish and wildlife biologists—review these applications. We consider many factors, including the amount of water available, water management frameworks under provincial land-use regional plans, and the impact the activity or project might have on fish or other wildlife, aquatic habitat, and water users.
Water Use Over a Project’s Life Cycle
Companies applying to use water must state the maximum amount they’ll need for their project’s entire life cycle. Once a project becomes operational, a company’s water use often declines. This happens for a number of reasons. For example, the company might have a better understanding of the site’s geology or secure alternative sources of water. It might also be recycling nonsaline water.
Compliance and Enforcement
Our inspectors across Alberta regularly inspect energy facilities to ensure that companies are not using more water than what we allow. If a company isn’t meeting our requirements, we’ll use one of our many compliance and enforcement tools.
Our annual Water Use Performance Report discloses how much water energy companies in Alberta use—including how much water is being recycled—for activities including oil sands (mining and in situ), hydraulic fracturing, and enhanced oil recovery. This report is part of our industry performance program, which measures, evaluates, and reports on the energy development activities we regulate.
We also publish monthly and annual in situ water use information in our Thermal In Situ (TIS) Water Publication. This interactive dashboard allows users to filter and analyze the information in different ways.