Water management strategies
In past editions of our Report on Sustainability, Suncor has described its evolving plans to develop a comprehensive oil sands water management strategy across our mining, extraction and upgrading operations. In 2012 and 2013, we started putting those plans into action. As a result, we expect to make further incremental performance improvements in the parts of our business that represent our greatest demand on fresh water resources.
Our oil sands water strategy is designed to help us reduce our tailings water footprint and improve water quality. In effect, this will reduce fresh water consumption and increase our recycling capacity. We will accomplish this through the following principles:
Reuse tailings water for in situ
The first major phase of our water strategy, formally commissioned in February 2013, involves sending treated tailings water from our oil sands base plant to Suncor’s in situ facility, Firebag, through an existing pipeline. There, the tailings water is used as a makeup water supply. The result is that about 10,000 cubic metres per day of tailings water is being used as in situ makeup water instead of being stored in tailings ponds. An equivalent amount of water will be recycled at our mining site, reducing the amount of fresh water we need to withdraw from the Athabasca River.
This project is unique in several respects. Reusing tailings water for makeup water in the in situ extraction process is new not only to Suncor, but to the entire industry. As well, the concept of reusing the water from the end of one project’s cycle to the ongoing work of another part of the business as makeup water serves to improve Suncor’s water management practices over a larger geographical area. Again, the project is industry leading, with Suncor taking the first major step towards regional water management.
Suncor’s plans for an innovative $150 million wastewater treatment facility are also moving from conception to implementation. Construction is well underway on the facility, now expected to begin operation in 2014. The plant is designed to take wastewater from Suncor’s upgrading pond and remove solids and oils, so we can reuse that water in our operations or return it to the environment. The plant will recycle 8,000 gallons of water per minute and could offset the need for river water by an equivalent amount.
This project, which is also an industry first, would virtually eliminate wastewater flow from upgrading to Suncor’s tailings ponds — and contribute significantly to our long-term tailings pond reclamation projects. Once the wastewater treatment plant is in operation, we expect we will have reduced our river water withdrawal by about 75% compared to 2007.
Treat and reuse tailings water
The next phase is to achieve further reductions by designing more systems to treat and recycle tailings water from operations so it is suitable to use boiler feedwater makeup. This will reduce the amount of fresh water we require.
As we continue to lead and innovate, Suncor will share the lessons learned with our industry peers through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). By doing so, we are confident we can reduce the regional operational footprint and protect the value of water.
Read more about collaborative water management in OSQAR