The Bog

The Bog is where thoughts, opinions, discussion pieces, and action converge. Influential thinkers from the water community are invited to share their insights on current or controversial water topics. Please note that the views expressed herein are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta WaterPortal.

The "new" oil

(Oilweek Magazine, March, 2009)

It has been amazing to watch the ascendance of water as the subject around which everything else of import circulates. Five years ago, saying the scarcity of water in southern Alberta could emerge as the potential limit to growth was met mostly with scornful responses. These days, the whole province is paying attention to preserving the supply of fresh water, and oil and gas companies are foremost among concerned stakeholders, along with government and researchers.

While water has long been used to enhance production from mature conventional oil reservoirs, there´s no question that the effective management of water is also central to unlocking the future of the oil sands industry. The focus on water has come about as the result of a confluence of pressures. In no special order: projects organized by the Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) during its formative years; the provincial government´s Water for Life policy; the ripples of concern spreading among the public in response to very vocal criticism of water policies and industrial fresh water use voiced by David Schindler at the University of Alberta and Mary Griffiths at the Pembina Institute, among others.

Certainly within the industry there are leaders who insist on continuous improvement of processes to spare fresh water. Browse through, for instance, and you´ll see blog entries by Rick George, chief executive officer for Suncor Energy, and Imperial Oil Ltd.´s chief executive officer Bruce March. The website is a discussion forum set up by oilsands producers to hear Canadians´ concerns about the industry and its impacts. George writes: "In terms of water, Suncor has reduced its absolute water use by 40 per cent in the past five years. Ninety per cent of water used to generate steam at our in situ operations is recycled. And with our current [now delayed] expansion plans, we have requested a zero per cent increase in our license to withdraw water from the Athabasca River."

Party like it's 2064...

In the midst of the most severe economic crisis of our time, Calgary sits pretty between the Bow and the Elbow, its feathers mostly unruffled, its spirits high. This is the land of plenty. Roots just opened a flagship store near the downtown core, Calgarians are flocking to see the Broadway musical Hairspray, the Stampeders won the Cup and the ‘City of Champions’ remains the one bright spot on the Canadian retail landscape.

According to an Angus-Reid online survey, Albertans are the most upbeat about Canada's economy, with 67 per cent of respondents giving a good rating to the national economy, compared to 42 per cent nationally and 29 per cent in Ontario.

All is good on the western front and its oil-rich metropolis.

Calgary is a well managed city. It enjoys a high level of citizen approval for services and programs, ranging from residential garbage collection to City-run recreational facilities. A green leader, the city adopted an environmental management system, or EMS in 1999 and is the first North American city to have achieved ISO 14001 certification, the EMS standard of the International Organization for Standardization. Calgary has also implemented a wide range of environmental measures to help reduce its footprint: A Montreal Gazette article published on November 28 states that Calgary City departments have reduced their greenhouse gases by 44 per cent.; 75 per cent of electricity in municipal buildings is produced by a 85-MegaWatt wind farm built by the city-owned utility company; a city bylaw limits sales of anything but low-flow toilets and the city’s fleet includes 180 hybrid cars and light trucks, while all garbage and recycling trucks run on biodiesel.

Water Use by Alberta’s Upstream Oil and Gas Industry

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) is the voice of the upstream oil and natural gas industry in Canada. CAPP represents 140 member companies who explore for, develop and produce more than 95 per cent of Canada's natural gas, crude oil, oil sands and elemental sulphur.

Water is an integral part of oil and gas production around the world, and as Canada’s oil and gas industry grows, so does the demand on Canadian water resources. The challenge facing the industry is to reduce fresh water use while continuing to develop oil and gas reserves.

Putting Oil and Gas Industry Use in Context
Canada’s oil and gas industry is maturing, with more production coming from older oil fields and unconventional sources such as oil sands. These petroleum resources often require water to facilitate production, and today water is primarily used for the recovery of bitumen from oil sands (mining and in situ) and for enhanced recovery from mature conventional oil fields. In Alberta, the oil and gas industry’s allocation of total licenced water in the province is 7.2%, and industry uses approximately one-third of that allocation.

First Nations Water

Opinion by Juli Abouchar, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP

Across the country year after year, a disproportionate number of First Nations communities have Boil Water Advisories (BWA). The number fluctuates, but as of June 13, 2008, ninety five First Nations communities across Canada were under a BWA. Many of these communities have been on BWAs for years, although BWAs are meant to be temporary measures. Most BWAs are in communities in Ontario and British Columbia, but Alberta has had its share, with 10 Alberta reserves experiencing boil water advisories.

Municipal and private water systems are subject to mandatory high standards that larger municipalities can keep up with. Many smaller and remote municipalities cannot manage the technical and organisational challenges of the regulations.

The problem is exacerbated for First Nations' water systems which are not regulated. This regulatory gap was identified in 2005 by the Auditor General. In November 2006, the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations released its report to the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations. The report identified the need for a regulatory framework together with adequate investment in human and physical assets, and proposed regulatory options.

In April of this year, the federal government announced that it would spend $330 million over the next two years on a First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan, including the development of clear standards and a legislative framework.

What is needed to make this legislative framework effective?

A Growing Debate – The Value of Water

Opinion by Bill Berzins, President of Fossil Water

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Thomas Fuller could very well have been warning Albertans when he coined this popular phrase in 1732. Indeed, as Alberta’s rapid pace of development places new demands on an increasingly scarce resource, the debate is growing.Alberta’s water market was enabled in the 1999 Water Act and further shaped by the 2006 Water Management Plan for the South Saskatchewan River Basin. The Plan, which placed a moratorium on new allocations of surface water within the Bow and Oldman River Basins, has been a catalyst for an emerging market for water entitlements. Recent applications for a change in purpose by the Western and Eastern Irrigation Districts have attracted the attention of ecological groups concerned that the needs of aquatic ecosystems will suffer as market forces drive up the price of water.