Water is indeed a precious resource and all users, including the oil and gas industry, should continue to look for ways to reduce their consumption.
But it’s important to note that oil and natural gas industry only accounts for a tiny fraction of Canada’s overall water use. Manufacturing, agriculture, and other activities actually use billions of litres more water than oil and natural gas producers.
According to the New Brunswick Department of Energy and Mining, a typical well “could require up to 20 million litres of water for water-based hydraulic fracturing. While that may sound like a lot, it is only 0.00025% of the 80 trillion litres of rain that falls on New Brunswick each year. New Brunswick has and will continue to have an ample water supply for people, ecosystems and industry, including natural gas development.”
To put 20 million litres in context, a golf course will use the same amount of water every 28 days. Twenty million litres of water is what’s required to grow nine acres of corn each year.
A study conducted in 2010 by Stantec Consulting Ltd. on behalf of Corridor Resources Inc., concluded that both the Kennebecasis River and Pollett River have potential to serve as water supply sources to satisfy development of the entire Elgin sub-basin, an area approximately 10 by 15 kilometres in size, while maintaining aquatic habitat protection flows. It is important to note that the Elgin sub-basin holds significant natural gas potential.
In British Columbia, a province with substantial oil and gas operations, oil & gas production accounts for less than 1% of the entire region’s water use; in Alberta, it is less than 1.5%.
Additionally, water consumption is steadily being reduced over time. As a column in Water Canada magazine put it, “The oil and gas industry is a leader in Canada with respect to research and development of water reuse.”
Take, for instance, Dawson Creek, BC: Faced with limited water supplies, producers constructed a $12 million water treatment facility that transforms non-potable sewage water into fluids that could be used for shale development. As a result the city will provide a model for producers looking to rapidly reduce their water consumption, while ensuring that communities are able to enjoy the economic benefits of oil and gas production.
A growing industry practice is also to recycle the “flowback” or water that returns to the surface, by mixing it with fresh water and using it in the next hydraulic fracturing operation. As producers continue to expand water recycling activities, even these comparatively small amounts will continue to decline.
Indeed, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Marcellus Shale operators are now recycling 90% of their flowback water.