No Fresh Water: That’s Refreshing

Posted: May. 22, 2009

As a part of Osum’s efforts to minimize the environmental impacts of its operations, no fresh water will be used for steam generation for the Taiga Project. In April, Osum completed tests on its Taiga leases which confirmed an adequate supply of brackish groundwater, potentially eliminating the need to consider alternate water sources. We asked our Chief Operations officer, Steve Spence, along with our Environment & Stakeholder Relations Manager, Brad Braun and Geoscience Manager, Dr. Jen Russel-Houston, to weigh in on the results of the test and their significance:

What do the results of the brackish water source well tests indicate?

Steve Spence: Initial results indicate that the project should be able to proceed with no use of fresh water for the bitumen recovery process.
Brad Braun: So far the results are great. We are working with other producers in the area to gather data and develop models that will help predict the long term deliverability of the brackish water supply. The modeling will be completed over the summer and at that point we will be able to give a more accurate assessment – but as noted, early indications are awesome!
Dr. Jen Russel Houston: We drilled through and completed a thick McMurray sand and importantly, found the basal McMurray aquifer to be well developed and highly permeable. The well 05-11-66-1W4 shows the drawdown is stable during the 1000 m3/day test. We were able to produce water at the maximum capacity of the pump (2200 m3/day) with minimal drawdown (9 meters). This is a small fraction of the available drawdown of the well and great news for the future deliverability of this McMurray aquifer.

What is Osum doing to manage the Taiga Project’s impact on water?

SS: Not using any fresh water for the project is a good start! The project will also be designed and constructed with high-efficiency water recycle. Most of the other measures are protective design features and proactive assessment of potential impacts so they can be mitigated and avoided where possible.
JRH: As an oilsands geologist, I spend a great deal of my time mapping and describing reservoirs of water, not oil. We are mapping, measuring, and monitoring the shallow aquifers in the project area. This early assessment will form the baseline for future measurements and allows us to understand the shallow fresh water aquifers that must be protected during the design, construction and operation of the Taiga Project. We are also looking at deep (greater than one kilometer) disposal zones for the waste products that will be produced during the operations; such as drilling fluids, waste water that is unsuitable for recycle. We are fortunate to have Cambrian-aged clastic sands that overly the PreCambrian Shield and are capped by several hundred meters of impermeable salt. This is the ideal disposal zone.
BB: Design features will allow surface water to flow naturally. Also, we will be installing various monitoring wells so that we can monitor groundwater quality and quantity.

Is it possible to imagine Alberta as a global leader in water technology? Could you see opportunities to apply innovation in the oil sands to other water-intensive industries?

BB: I’m convinced that with the amount of money that is being spent on water treatment technologies, someone will eventually make membrane technology work.
JRH: Most of the technology improvements have been surface related achievements on water handling…
SS: Frankly, we have lots of water compared to many places. Where we need to improve is in efficiency of use. Water technologies are used in many industries; the evaporator technology we are planning to use is derived from pulp and paper, and likely other industries before that. The key is to learn and share across industries to do the right thing! What does the future hold? It’s difficult to know, but the expectation will always be to protect the resource (surface and ground waters) for the best current and future uses.

ABOVE: An illustration of Osum’s brackish water system. Undrinkable saline water will be drawn from the McMurray Formation, used in steam generation, recycled with efficiencies of 90%, and waste will be disposed of safely in the Cambrian sands granite wash.

Previous Articles

More Articles