There are significant changes on the horizon with regards to how thermal in situ oil sands operations (“Thermal Projects”) may use and impact water in the Province of Alberta. On February 9, 2009, Alberta Environment (“AE”) and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (the “ERCB”) jointly issued a draft directive entitled “Requirements for Water Measurement, Reporting, and Use for Thermal In Situ Oil Sands Schemes” (the “Draft Directive”). In addition to the Draft Directive, AE has also developed a draft “Policy to Assess and Manage Non-saline Groundwater in Direct Contact with Bitumen, In Situ Oil Sands Operations” (the “Draft Policy”). Although neither the Draft Directive nor the Draft Policy have come into effect, both documents propose considerable modifications to the use and management of water that will seriously impact and increase demands on Thermal Projects in Alberta.

The Draft Directive sets out requirements for all Thermal Projects in the Athabasca, Cold Lake, and Peace River Oil sands regions. These requirements apply to areas such as water measurement accuracy, reporting of water streams to the Petroleum Registry of Alberta and the AE Water Use Reporting System, setting maximum limits on the use of non-saline groundwater, surface water and saline ground water, and minimum limits on the utilization of produced water. If implemented, the new proposed requirements will apply to all Thermal Projects (both new facilities and expansions) within one year of the effective date of the Draft Directive.

The Draft Policy has the potential to significantly impact proposed and existing Thermal Projects through the imposition of obligations relating to:

  • the analysis of regional groundwater quality and quantity in proposed project areas;
  • the analysis of impact of withdrawals and dewatering of non-saline aquifers;
  • the analysis of impacts of infectivity testing;
  • preservation of cap rock integrity and lateral containment; and
  • monitoring and reporting.

The AE and ERCB are currently considering all responses received during the comment period which closed on April 1, 2009, and will subsequently finalize the proposed requirements and bring the requirements into force.