Oil Sands Water Management Plan
2009 marked the first full year of Suncor’s 10-year oil sands water management plan aimed at making us the lowest net water intensity user in the oil sands mining business. We have more than $500 million in capital to implement this plan.
The first major project funded by the plan was the installation of a new cooling tower for the “once-through” cooling water used in our operations. The tower allows us to re-circulate more of the water we withdraw from the river. In 2009, this upgrade resulted in an 11% reduction in the amount of freshwater Suncor withdrew from the Athabasca River.
A key improvement over the course of the 10-year oil sands water management plan will be the ability to reuse or return more of our treated wastewater to the Athabasca River. Currently, about 46% of the water we withdraw from the Athabasca ends up as wastewater. We clean and return about half of that volume to the river, with the rest being reused in the extraction process and then stored in our tailings ponds.
Under our plan, we will be implementing water treatment technologies that already exist to ultimately allow us to reuse or recycle all of our wastewater and to discharge water in the most responsible manner. All of our wastewater 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.
As Suncor begins implementing its new TROTM (Tailings Reduction Operations) process (subject to regulatory approval), we will have more free water available for reuse or return to the environment. This released water can be treated and dealt within one of three ways:
- Reuse in our own operations
- Reuse by other operators in the Athabasca watershed
- Safely returning it to the river
Watch a video to see how TROTM works
All of these options would serve to reduce the cumulative fresh water demand on the Athabasca River. We are currently evaluating what balance of oil sands water management strategies would provide the greatest net environmental benefit.