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Oil sands research: water

We continually aim to minimize our use of water and protect this most precious of resources.

How we use water

  • To capture the oil
    We inject steam into underground reservoirs to heat the thick, heavy oil for easy flow to a producing well.
  • Mining
    We use water to separate heavy oil from sand and clay.
  • Tailing ponds
    We form ponds to hold the water, clay, sand and residual oil we use in the separation process. Over time, these solids settle and allow us to reclaim the ponds and reuse the water. This, in turn, helps us reduce reliance on rivers, lakes and freshwater sources.

Since the 1970s, we’ve reduced the amount of fresh water we use at our Cold Lake operation by 90%. Today, we’re working on technologies that could make even more positive impact, by completely replacing steam in the oil recovery process.

Cheryl Trudell, PhD
Imperial research manager

Real gains

  • 80 to 95% of water recovered from our oil sands production is treated, recycled and re-used as steam, significantly reducing fresh water use.
  • 90% less freshwater is required for each barrel produced at Cold Lake since the 1970s.
  • Fish habitats. We build viable lakes to make up for any disruption of fish habitats during oil sands development.