Understanding the Relationship Between Athabasca Bitumen Production and River Water Availability

CIM Toronto 2009
Abstract Oil sands production by surface mining methods is reliant on large amounts of water for the transport of materials and to promote the separation of bitumen from the sands and clays in the raw ore. Much of this water is recycled within the facility but there remains a need for import of fresh water from the Athabasca River. The heavy concentration of industry in the region north of Fort McMurray has placed a stress on this natural resource.

Through a simplified water balance approach, it is possible to quantify the water demand from the Athabasca River at various levels of cumulative bitumen production. Comparison of the estimated river water requirement to intake restrictions imposed by the February 2007 release of the Water Management Framework (WMF) permits identification of the combined bitumen production that can be supported by the river during periods of historically low winter flows. Linking this information with announced dates for new production starts and site expansions, it is possible to arrive at an understanding of when first impacts from the WMF may be felt and the magnitude of the impact.

This presentation will also consider adjustments to the baseline water balance to reflect different tailings and water management strategies. In particular, the influences of increased capacity for raw water storage and of Directive 074 on Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements will be reviewed.
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