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Chart of the month

Alberta’s oil & gas industry continues to see growth in water recycling across most upstream segments, but more effort is needed to tangibly improve overall water efficiency. This month’s interactive charts were created from recently updated information published by Canada’s Alberta Energy Regulator. The pie chart breaks out the total volume of water used in Alberta’s oil & gas industry by activity and water type while the line chart illustrates the evolution of water sourcing and water use intensity in each segment over the 2015-2019 period.

Water use in Alberta’s oil & gas industry by activity and water type

Of the 9.43 billion bbl of water used in 2019, recycled water – including produced water, mine tailings and flowback water – far surpassed the use of new make-up water sourced from surface and groundwater supplies. Water recycling rates are steadily climbing across every segment except hydraulic fracturing (HF). The segment’s low recycling rate – well below 10% since 2015 – may be partly due to the rapid and unfixed nature of shale development as well as the fact that water is only required for new well completions. Meanwhile, the longer-term and more stationary enhanced oil recovery (EOR), in-situ oil sands (ISOS) and oil sands mining (OSM) projects typically rely on water or steam injection throughout their life cycles, lending to the viability of water recycling.

Hydraulic fracturing is the most water-efficient activity in the province, requiring less than 0.3 bbl of water to produce 1 bbl of oil equivalent in 2019, compared to the 12.4 bbl of water needed for EOR operations. However, average water use intensity across all segments has fluctuated greatly since 2015 with no strong trends emerging. Water recycling and water use intensity trends seem to indicate that more efforts have been directed at innovating water treatment technologies (to make them more effective and economical) and production processes (to enable lower-quality water use) than at improving overall water efficiency.

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