Industry Working Together To Reduce Fresh Water Use

Corporate Responsibility

Industry Working Together To Reduce Fresh Water Use

A new Water Technology Development Centre (WTDC) is one of the current joint industry projects being developed by COSIA’s Water Environmental Priority Area (EPA). The $165 million facility will advance new water treatment and recycling technologies for in situ oil sands development,and will allow researchers to test new technologies on ‘live’ process fluids in real world conditions without affecting production. Testing priorities will include minimizing fresh water use and maximizing reliability for steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) production.

The WTDC will shorten the time required to field test technologies and move them to commercial application by allowing participating companies to test more technologies than could be evaluated by each company individually while collaboratively managing the risks and costs of technology development. Other benefits include:


  • Reducing the cost of water recycling;
  • Increasing steam and bitumen production;
  • Improving the reliability of water recycling technology;
  • Reducing water use and energy efficiency;
  • Developing and applying improved technologies and practices for managing water treatment byproducts.

About 80 per cent of Alberta’s oil sands reserves can only be recovered through in situ extraction technology. In situ operations use water to produce high-temperature steam that is injected into the reservoir to melt the bitumen. As the warm bitumen is moved to the surface, the steam cools turning back into water, which is brought to the surface along with the bitumen. The water is separated from the bitumen and channeled through complex water treatment facilities to remove impurities. The treated water is recycled and re-used in the process. In situ operators are looking for ways to reduce the high cost of water treatment, improve the reliability of recycling technology and reduce their water footprint.


The Water Technology Development Centre is expected to begin construction in 2015, attached to Suncor’s Firebag in situ operations and become operational in 2017. The remaining project members include Canadian Natural, Devon, Husky, Nexen Energy and Shell Canada.