Alberta desperately needs a water-management plan, A strategy to manage water use in Alberta must coexist with the oil and gas sector’s appetite for this precious resource

Alberta desperately needs a water-management plan, A strategy to manage water use in Alberta must coexist with the oil and gas sector’s appetite for this precious resource by Patrycja Romanowska, July 29, 2013, Alberta Oil Magazine
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer’s 2013 Crude Oil Forecast says oil production will jump from an average of 3.2 million barrels per day in 2012 to 6.7 million bpd by 2030. Because both people and the oil and gas industry use a lot of water, such projections mean the demand for water in Alberta will be growing as well. … The answers to those questions are complex. But they are rooted in the province’s current water allocation regime, whereby water licenses are given out on a first come first serve basis after an assessment of the water source determines its sufficiency. … The shortage of water in southern Alberta is worrisome for oil and gas companies and so is the emergence – small as it may be – of a water market. … “What we’re contemplating and what we’ve put forward in the water conversation package was an expansion of a current policy that applies to the oilfield and largely for water floods. We require industry to demonstrate that they are using the most appropriate source, namely that they’re going to the brackish or the saline groundwater before they use fresh groundwater and before they use fresh surface water,” Ridge says. This policy will put the onus on producers, particularly those involved in in-situ and hydraulic fracturing operations, to demonstrate that they have sourced, or exhausted all attempts to source, non-potable water and identified opportunities for water sharing and treatment before they are issued a license.

While concerns about the oil patch’s water use and how it is being managed in Alberta are not new, the issue has taken on added significance as hydraulic fracturing becomes a dominant method of coaxing oil and natural gas from tight rock across Alberta and Western Canada. Fracking operations require huge volumes of water. The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency reports that enough water is used in the process to meet the needs of 40 to 80 cities with populations of 50,000. While it can vary greatly, multi-stage fracking operations will use up to 12 million gallons of water during the so-called “stimulation“ phase of the job. “Water is the biggest challenge we have right now in any shale play,” Mike Wood, Talisman Energy Inc.`s vice-president, Canada shale division, told Alberta Oil in April 2012. Talisman is no stranger to the water supply challenge. It signed a big deal with BC Hydro in July of 2011, one that will feed large volumes of water to various shale gas wells in its Farrell Creek operations. Under the contract, up to 10,000 cubic meters of the stuff can be transported through a pipeline from a nearby reservoir. Talisman isn’t the only company getting more creative with water sourcing for hydraulic fracturing operations. Encana Corp. has signed a deal with the Town of Rimbey, located 145 kilometers southwest of Edmonton, to purchase 180,000 cubic meters of treated wastewater to use in its nearby Duvernay-based wells. “This is typical of our water strategy,” says Kevin Beneteau, team lead for air, land and water of Encana’s Canadian division. “Everywhere we go, we look for alternatives to surface water.” Beneteau’s division includes hydrologists, hydrogeologists and even saline water specialists. These people explore the gamut of options available to satisfy the water intensive process of hydraulic fracturing while minimizing costs and impacts to the environment. “I believe we have a sound regulatory regime that we work with,” Beneteau says. In another project, Encana worked with joint-venture partner Apache Canada Ltd. in the Horn River basin to identify a deep saline and hydrogen sulfide-rich aquifer and build a water treatment plant that would allow the aquifer’s water to be used in hydraulic fracturing operations. The result of the partnership is the Debolt water treatment plant, which is expected to provide upwards of 80 per cent of the water requirement for Encana’s Two Island Lake operations in the Horn River play. This is encouraging for Ridge and his department, as is the overall direction of industrial use of water. Still, no matter what the oil and gas industry does to reduce and be more efficient in its use of water, he worries about the long-term effect of climate change on a finite water supply even as a growing population generates increased demand. [Emphasis added]

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