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WHEREAS there is a concern about the enormous waste of fresh water by the oil and gas industry through hydro-fracking and water injection processes; and
WHEREAS injection of 32 million cubic meters (the current total of licenses held by the oil and gas industry in Alberta) of fresh water is permanently removed from the aquatic cycle; and
WHEREAS free and easy access to fresh water for enhanced oil recovery acts as a disincentive for oil and gas companies to pursue alternate methods such as carbon dioxide injection, light oil hydrofracking or to drill deeper to locate and pipe non-potable water for injection purposes; and
WHEREAS rural municipalities are concerned with the amount of potable water used in the fracking and water injection process;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request the Government of Alberta to immediately strike a multi-stakeholder committee to work at reducing the use of potable water and explore alternate options for use by the oil and gas industry in Alberta.
A reliable water supply for a sustainable economy is one of the key goals of Water for Life, Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability. The Advisory Committee on Water Use Practices and Policy was formulated in 2003 to examine the use of fresh water for underground injection. The Government of Alberta working, in partnership with industry, interest groups and non-government organizations, developed the Water Conservation and Allocation Policy for oilfield injection, with a goal to reduce or eliminate the allocation of non-saline water for deep well injection. Applications for the use of fresh water for injection continue to be filed with the Alberta Energy Regulator, and are approved on the basis that there is no economical
alternative (saline water or carbon dioxide) that is available or because the diversion of ground water was previously approved through the licensing process.
Currently the oil industry holds licenses for up to 32 million cubic meters of ground water diversion. The suggestion that use of non-saline ground water for enhancing oil field production is the most economical means is found on the premise that ground water has no dollar value. Such is not the case for those communities in Alberta that must pipe water to support residents. With the ever-increasing drought conditions across the Prairie provinces, ground water is becoming a scarce resource that must be conserved. Fresh water flooding of oil fields results in the water being lost to the eco-system forever. It is imperative that the Government of Alberta establish policies to regulate ground water usage by the oil and gas industry for the protection and sustainability of this vital resource.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Environment and Parks
The Government of Alberta is committed to developing its unconventional energy resources in a safe and responsible manner. There are strict rules in place to protect Alberta’s aquatic ecosystems, one of the province’s most important resources.
Water use is regulated under the Water Act. Where, when and how much water can be withdrawn is regulated. Diversion licenses are granted to applicants when sufficient water is available to meet both ecosystem requirements and the rights of existing license holders. The 2006 Water Conservation and Allocation Policy for Oilfield Injection requires operators to assess alternatives to fresh water prior to applying for a water license for enhanced oil recovery (water floods) and in-situ operations. Significant water productivity improvements have been made under this policy.
The government is reviewing the current approach to water licensing for oil and gas operations in Alberta, including the hydraulic fracturing sector that has emerged in recent years. In February 2018, Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) issued the Directive for Water Licensing of Hydraulic Fracturing Projects— Area of Use Approach (the Directive), to provide direction to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) to ensure a consistent approach in evaluating the various factors regarding water licensing of hydraulic fracturing projects with multi-year operations.
The Directive enables better cumulative effects management of water resources, and has stringent requirements for demonstrating the need for water and monitoring and reporting water use. The Directive also requires oil and gas operators to conduct an assessment of alternatives to fresh water, such as saline groundwater, recycled municipal or industrial wastewater, recycled flowback and non-water technologies, prior to applying for a license to use fresh water.
The AER is responsible for issuing water licenses for energy development activities on behalf of the government. All non-saline water use is reported to the AER through various requirements:
The AER publishes an Alberta Energy Industry Water Use Report each year, which shows how much water is allocated and used to recover oil, gas, and oil sands resources through oil sands mining, in situ, enhanced oil recovery, and hydraulic fracturing. The report contains information on non-saline water use, water recycling rates, use of alternatives to non-saline water, and the volume of non-saline water required to produce a barrel of oil equivalent.
Generally, companies are using less water than what is allocated to them. In 2016, approximately 10 billion cubic metres of non-saline water were allocated for use in Alberta. Approximately 10 per cent (or one billion cubic metres) of that was allocated to energy development. The remaining 90 per cent went to other uses, such as agriculture, forestry, commercial (for example, golf courses, gravel pit operations), and municipalities. Of the total water allocated to the energy industry, companies used less than a quarter of their allocation.
The energy industry has made significant efforts to use water more efficiently and reduce its impact on the environment. On average, the industry recycles approximately 80 per cent of the non-saline water it uses. On average, industry used 35 per cent less non-saline water to produce one barrel per oil equivalent in 2016, compared to 2012. The report is part of the Industry Performance Program, which measures, evaluates, and reports on the energy development activities that the AER regulates.
Alberta Energy has no further input beyond the response from AEP.
The Government of Alberta and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) are currently considering expanding the use of temporary surface pipelines (TSPs) as a regulated alternative for the transportation of various types of water, including some wastewaters. The reasoning behind expanding the use of TSPs is that the short-term need for water has increased and many stakeholders have requested that the AER reduce industry’s use of high-quality water. The AER is currently engaging with Albertans in the development of a regulatory framework for TSPs. RMA has distributed the engagement opportunity to members and has provided feedback as well. While this information is encouraging, it does not address the intent of the resolution to form a committee.
Because provincial action is being taken to reduce the use of potable water by the oil and gas industry, RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Part, and will continue to advocate for the formation of a committee on this issue.