Mining News

Oil sands operators increase recycling and decrease fresh water use

Posted by Alana Wilson on 5/6/2014 11:52:02 AM

By Alana Wilson

The Financial Post recently published a special report on water use in the oil sands written by Mark Young. The report notes that extracting oil from oil sands uses water to create steam and that this water can be recycled in projects repeatedly. Where additional water is needed, external sources of water are used including surface water like rivers or lakes, water from wells, or by using brackish or saline water. However, Young notes how improved recycling has decreased the amount of external water needed:

Analysing CanOils data, we can see that over time, operators in the Alberta oil sands have been getting their water usage from external sources increasingly under control. Total external water use by in situ projects in 2013 was more than double the amount used in 2002, but high recycle ratios have meant this external water usage total has been relatively flat since 2010 whilst bitumen production has continued to rise.

The following chart, copied from the post article, shows this trend with total water used remaining relatively flat since 2010 while total bitumen production has continued to climb. According to Young, recycle ratios within projects “have improved markedly since 2009 – most in situ projects now have recycle ratios of over 90% – and the overall requirement to source water from external sources has consequently fallen for each barrel of oil produced.”

FP Water Usage In-Situ Projects

Oil sands miners are not only increasing the recycling of water, but also using less fresh water when sourcing external water. Instead Young notes a trend towards using brackish or saline water that would not otherwise be suitable for human or agricultural use.

Brackish water use has increased at a much higher rate than the use of fresh water. In 2002, nearly all external water used by in situ oil sands projects was fresh water, whereas in 2013, brackish water makes up almost 42% of the total external water used.

By improving recycling and using brackish water, oil sands projects are becoming more efficient and are becoming less reliant on fresh water sources.

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