COSIA Member performance against the Water Performance Goals


Performance Goals - Water Update: See how far we’ve come and how far is left to go.

2015 is the first year that COSIA members have reported on their aggregate performance against two water Performance Goals. While it is still very early days and COSIA members expect there may be significant variation in performance from year to year, early results against these two goals are encouraging.

Performance Goals are innovation tools, designed to enhance alignment and help COSIA member companies and their partners focus on developing the knowledge, practices and technology that have the greatest potential to contribute to COSIA’s Aspiration to “Be world leaders in water management, producing Canadian energy with no adverse impact on water.” For more information on what the Performance Goals are and why we have them please visit COSIA Performance Goals.

The following summarises how COSIA members have collectively performed compared to a 2012 baseline, and the factors contributing to that performance to date.

Mining Performance

Mining Performance Goal:

COSIA Members are committed to collectively reducing oil sands mining operations’ net water use intensity from the Athabasca River and its tributaries by 30 per cent by 2022.

In mining operations, warm water is mixed with the mined oil sands ore to separate the bitumen from the remaining clays, sands and other materials. Approximately 80 to 85 per cent of water used for oil sands extraction in mining operations is recycled. Of the remaining 15 to 20 per cent of water that must be replaced, approximately 70 per cent is taken from the Athabasca River and its tributaries.

COSIA members with mining operations collectively reduced their net water use intensity from the Athabasca River and its tributaries by 14 per cent since 2012. This meant that members used 1.9 barrels of Athabasca River water to produce one barrel of bitumen in 2015 compared to 2.2 barrels of Athabasca River water in 2012.

New water use intensity from the Athabasca River and its tributaries associated with COSIA members’ mining operations.

Three key factors influenced COSIA members’ mining performance during this reporting period:

  1. Using tailings water in bitumen production. Some operators used excess water inventory from tailings ponds during the reporting period which had been built up prior to 2012 in preparation for production. This reduced their need for water from the Athabasca River during the reporting period.
  2. Increased water recycling. Some operators were able to increase their recycle rates in the reporting period.
  3. New Production/Changes to Operations. Members prepared to bring on new production and made changes to operation during the reporting period including bringing on additional capacity which temporarily required more water to be imported.

Mining Performance Questions and Answers

How were operators able to draw down water inventories once production had started?

The level of water demand at an oil sands mining operation varies at each stage of the mine’s lifecycle, affecting the intensity of Athabasca River water use. Operators typically build up water inventory prior to beginning production. This water can then be used, or drawn down, once production begins.

How were some operators able to increase their recycle rates?

Companies continue to improve how they manage water on the mine site, including the treatment of tailings water for re-use and using new technologies and practices to remove water from tailings, which is a mixture of clay, silt, sand and residual bitumen. Once the water is removed, either prior to it entering the tailings pond or after it becomes trapped between fine solid particles within the tailings pond itself, it can be reused. This allows operators to improve recycle rates while maintaining optimal operating conditions and reducing Athabasca River water use.

Why is net Athabasca River water use intensity so variable?

This is a result of a number of different issues, each of which affect the amount of water needed from the Athabasca River including:

  1. Variable water usage associated with mines preparing for start-up.
  2. Variable ore qualities – in particular the amount of clays within the ore.
  3. Varying levels of precipitation which accumulates on mining leases and is ultimately used in the production process.

Where will future improvements in performance come?

Further improvements in tailings management technologies and practices will be important in reducing Athabasca River water use intensity, specifically through the development of more energy and cost efficient ways to extract water trapped in tailings deposits and processes to prevent the creation of fines in suspension from the outset. Technology development in this area is a key priority for COSIA.

Mining Performance Questions and Answers


In situ Performance

In situ Performance Goal:

Reduce fresh water use intensity by 50 per cent by 2022.

Water is used to produce bitumen in situ, by heating the water into steam, injecting the steam underground to melt the bitumen away from sand in the underground reservoir, then pumping the bitumen and water to the surface. Approximately 90 per cent of the water used in in situ operations is recycled. The remaining 10 per cent is lost mainly due to reservoir retention, and the need to remove water with high concentrations of salts and other dissolved solids to maintain effective operational conditions, and must be replaced by “make up” water, either fresh or saline.

COSIA members with in situ operations collectively reduced their fresh water use intensity by 39 per cent since 2012. This meant that members used 0.22 barrels of fresh water to produce one barrel of bitumen in 2015 compared to 0.36 barrels of fresh water in 2012.

Fresh water use intensity associated with COSIA members’ in situ operations.

Three key factors influenced COSIA members’ in situ performance during this reporting period:

  1. Using non-potable saline ground water instead of fresh water.
  2. Increasing recycle rates.
  3. Improved water recovery from mature reservoirs, has been offset by high water retention in newly producing reservoirs that came on-line in 2015.

In situ Performance Questions and Answers

How have operators been able to use saline water in place of fresh water?

Through continuing improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of their water treatment and steam generation processes.

How have some operators increased their recycle rates?

Member companies are focussing on a number of areas to improve recycle rates, including how to reduce water lost in the treatment of boiler waste (known as boiler blowdown), and other improvements to boiler operation and design. Boiler blowdown treatment removes hydrocarbons and dissolved minerals from the blowdown stream so more water can be recycled for reuse. New boiler designs are able to convert more of the water used in the boiler to steam thereby reducing the amount of water needed to produce the same amount of steam.

Why do new facilities have high water demand?

When a new in situ facility is started, the bitumen reservoir must be heated up with steam before bitumen can begin to flow to the production facility. During this steaming period, which may last for months, no bitumen is produced. The overall sector’s water demand goes up with no additional bitumen production, therefore increasing the overall water intensity for a period of time.

How does water intensity change as a producing reservoir ages?

Typically as a reservoir matures, its capacity to retain water diminishes. As a consequence more water from the reservoir can be returned back to the surface for reuse, and less fresh water is required to replace water retained in the reservoir. However, each reservoir is unique, in some cases demanding more water as they mature.

In situ Performance Questions and Answers



COSIA members have made progress reducing fresh water use intensities associated with both their mining and in situ operations. While this performance is encouraging it’s important to note that members continue to expect variations in performance on a year-to-year basis.

There are many factors that influence fresh water use intensities, many of which change from year to year. Factors that have played a significant role in driving the improved performance to date may not be significant factors in shaping 2016 performance. Mining water use intensity performance will continue to be influenced by natural precipitation rates, tailings pond construction cycles, varying production rates and ore quality. For in situ operations, new facilities coming on line and variable reservoir retention rates for water will result in varying fresh water use intensities for the sector in the coming years.

While COSIA members acknowledge that fresh water use intensity may continue to fluctuate, their commitment to drive improved environmental performance improvement through collaborative action and innovation through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance is as strong as ever.