Water Availability in the Oil Sands under Projections of Increasing Demands and a Changing Climate: An Assessment of the Lower Athabasca Water Management Framework (Phase 1)

Mannix, Amy E.; Dridi, Chokri; Adamowicz, Wiktor L.
March 2010
Canadian Water Resources Journal/Revue Canadienne des Ressources;Spring2010, Vol. 35 Issue 1, p28
Academic Journal
Water extraction from the Athabasca River for oil production has generated significant public concern due to its potential environmental impacts. Phase 1 of the Lower Athabasca Water Management Framework, introduced in February 2007, limits industrial water extractions in the Oil Sands based on available data on in-stream flow needs. The framework designates green, yellow, and red flow conditions on a weekly basis for the setting of progressive water restrictions. Using various streamflow and water demand scenarios, the frequency of each flow condition is investigated along with cases of when water-use restrictions may occur. Using a base case flow scenario (10% reduction in historic flows) and a high-growth forecast of demand of 14.0 m[sup 3]s by 2025 (equivalent to full utilisation of current approved licences) it is estimated that binding flow conditions of the Phase 1 framework would occur for an average of six weeks per year during winter, with significant variance across years. To avoid restrictions, demands would need to be limited to 7.5 m[sup 3]/s (i.e., average water use of 0.2 m[sup 3] per barrel of crude oil produced by 2020), or storage would be required of a capacity in the order of 15% of the annual supply to industry. An ecosystem base flow, if adopted for Phase 2 of the framework, may significantly increase the severity of restrictions (assuming an in-stream flow threshold of 100 m[sup 3]/s based on the minimum weekly Q95).The results highlight the need for a long-term, cost-effective strategy to manage the implementation of water restrictions in the Oil Sands, and the problematic nature of assigning fixed licensed volumes � rather than proportional shares � in a variable streamflow environment.


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