Environmental impact of the oil and gas industry's consumption of water from the Athabasca River during the predicted water shortage for Canada's western prairie provinces
Water consumption in Alberta continues to grow as demand from industry, agriculture and municipalities increases. In future years, these sectors will be unable to consume the water needed to meet demand because of the projected decreases in water availability. Climate change is predicted to cause decreases in snow pack accumulation and result in continued retreat of glaciers, both of which will reduce the overall water quantity available downstream. The oil and gas industry uses large amounts of water in their processes and facilities, some of which cannot be directly returned to the water cycle. This water is tied up in tailings ponds and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) oil reservoirs, but most consumed water is returned to the water cycle through evaporation. This large consumption of water is concerning citizens in Alberta. To address the potential water shortage and the concerns about the oil and gas industry’s use of water in the Athabasca Oil Sands, the Alberta Government, industry and other non-governmental organizations have developed various strategies, reports, legislation, allocation guidelines and recommendations for the future. This report provides information on the Athabasca River Basin and the Peace-Athabasca Delta, water legislation and allocation in Alberta, water consumption by the oil and gas industry, and potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas industry’s consumption of water. It presents results of a secondary data analysis, which indicate current and future oil and gas projects, given an increase in water consumption and a decrease in the Athabasca River’s natural flow, will consume 1.86% of the Athabasca River’s natural flow. This report concludes by discussing the information obtained through the literature review and results of the secondary data and analysis and by providing recommendations that would improve the sustainable use of water by the oiland gas industry, effectively balancing the environmental and economic needs of Alberta.