Groundwater use in oil sands "unsustainable" — Natural Resources Canada sponsored report

National report cites critical need for more monitoring and stronger laws for "out of sight out of mind" resource

As federal hearings begin on oil sands and water today, a national report released today by the Council of Canadian Academies points out that groundwater use in the oil sands region is unsustainable. The report, commissioned by National Resources Canada, focuses on groundwater issues across Canada and evaluates current and emerging issues for groundwater protection. Over 90 percent of rural Albertans rely on groundwater resources.

"We encourage the federal committee to consider that oil sands operations can have major impacts on groundwater," said Danielle Droitsch, Executive Director of Water Matters. "Groundwater is often ‘out of sight and out of mind' but is significant to those who need it."

The report points out the need to transition from project-by-project impact assessments on groundwater to regional assessments that consider multiple projects. Water Matters points out that groundwater underlying oil sands operations is actually a complex network of aquifers whose dynamics are not fully understood.

The federal government's Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development kicks off three days of hearings in Fort Chipewyan, Fort McMurray, Edmonton, and Calgary over May 11 to 13.

While the volume of surface water used for thermal in situ bitumen recovery remained roughly constant between 2001 and 2007, the total volume of groundwater allocated and use increased substantially, doubling between 2002 and 2007, with saline water use growing faster than the growth in freshwater use. "Demand for groundwater could match surface water demand in coming years," said Droitsch.

Groundwater issues are not only significant in northern Alberta. In southern Alberta, groundwater demand is accelerating because the provincial government is no longer giving new surface water licences in much of the South Saskatchewan River Basin. "There is a concern that the closure of the basin to surface water diversions put an entirely new pressure on groundwater," says Droitsch. "We have to watch this carefully because we don't want to be in situation where we look back and have over-allocated groundwater resources."

Droitsch points to the need for the Alberta's regional planning under the Land-use Framework to set clear objectives that will protect safe and abundant groundwater supplies for Albertans and the environment.

Media Contacts: Danielle Droitsch: 403-678-7964 (Canmore); Joe Obad: 403-585-5826 (Calgary) 

About Water Matters

Water Matters is a voice for watershed protection in Alberta. We take action on watershed protection for the public interest, raise public awareness by providing information and solutions, promote progressive policies and practices for watershed protection, and we empower people to take action in their community and overcome challenges.