Suncor recently adopted a 10-year water management plan aimed at making us the lowest net water intensity user in the oil sands mining business. We have identified more than $500 million in capital for this plan. We hope to improve this plan by utilizing new innovative and sustainable technologies for treating water.
The key improvement will be the ability to reuse or return more of our treated wastewater to the Athabasca River. Currently, about 46 percent of the water we use ends up as wastewater. We clean and return about half of that volume to the river, with the rest being used in the extraction process and then stored in our tailings ponds.
As new tailings reclamation technologies are implemented, we will need less water for extraction and our tailings ponds. Quicker reclamation will also mean the increased release of water from our tailings—water that can either be treated to be recycled in our operations or cleaned up and safely returned to the river.
Under our water management plan, we will be implementing water treatment technologies that already exist to ultimately allow us to use all of our wastewater and discharge water in the most responsible manner. These volumes will either be recycled in our operations or cleaned up and safely returned to the river. This, in turn, will reduce our reliance on fresh water and should allow us to live within our current water license allocations, even as oil sands production rates continue to grow.
New Water Withdrawal Regulations
In March 2007, the Alberta and Canadian governments introduced the Athabasca River Water Management Framework, which set new restrictions on how much water the oil sands industry could cumulatively withdraw from the river during varying flow conditions.
The framework is based on the premise that, under certain conditions (for example, “low flow” periods during winter) the withdrawal rate of current and proposed oil sands projects could present a risk to the river's ecological integrity. All oil sands operators—both existing and future ones—are expected to work together to stay within the prescribed limits.
In 2008, Suncor and three other current oil sands mining operators signed an interim agreement to ensure framework restrictions were observed during the 2008-2009 winter period. The industry is continuing to work on a longer-term agreement to achieve the framework targets.