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Oil sands research: water

We continually aim to minimize our use of water and protect this resource.

How we use water

  • To recover the oil
    We inject steam into underground reservoirs to heat the thick, heavy oil, so it is able to 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 freshwater sources, such as rivers and lakes.

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 with a recovery solution in the process.

Cheryl Trudell, PhD
Vice President, Research

Real gains

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