Oil and gas industry focuses on water issues

Oil sands operations are the largest users of Alberta’s groundwater and use 76 percent of the water withdrawn from the Athabasca River each year.

by James Laughlin, Managing Editor

The oil and gas industry in the US and Canada is exploding with growth that could bring energy independence to the United States for the first time in many decades. There is only one small stumbling block: water!

The need for huge volumes of water is a growing challenge for oil and gas production. Managing the risks associated with access to water, regulatory requirements and production goals have become an increasing challenge. Improvements in drilling and production technology have lowered operating costs but the need for water management remains unchanged.

Industrial WaterWorld is published by PennWell, which also publishes the Oil & Gas Journal and a variety of other oil-related magazines. I've been tasked recently with adding a water track and forum to one of PennWell's many oil industry conferences. It's been an interesting learning experience.

Thanks to my efforts, this year the Oil Sands and Heavy Oil Technologies Conference (OSHOT) will introduce the Water in Unconventional Oil & Gas Conference Track and Pavilion. The conference, to be held in Calgary this coming July, will focus on water issues relevant not only to oil sands and heavy oil but also to the unconventional oil and gas developments that rely on hydraulic fracturing -- shale and other low-permeability formations.

The OSHOT conference has been held the past few years in Calgary near Canada's oil sands region. Oil sands operations are the largest users of Alberta's groundwater and use 76 percent of the water withdrawn from the Athabasca River each year. Together, planned and existing projects are expected to withdraw 529 million cubic meters of water from the Athabasca annually, more water than is used each year by the City of Toronto, which has a population greater than 2.5 million.

The Water Track at OSHOT is designed to discuss the varied issues surrounding water in unconventional oil and gas developments, which include oil sands, shale plays and hydraulic fracturing. Topics to be discussed include water resource management, groundwater protection, wastewater treatment & reuse, and residuals management. Conference papers are primarily aimed at water professionals working in the oil and gas market but will also be of interest to producers active in unconventional oil and gas plays.

We are also planning a one-day overview seminar focused on sustainable water processes for heavy oil and oil sands. The seminar will investigate current operational processes and new and developing technologies related to water processing. The course will also include an evaluation of regulatory and environmental requirements related to water use and treatment for oil and gas operations including hydraulic fracturing.

The seminar will be presented by instructors from SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary. SAIT -- the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology -- offers a water-focused program for oil industry operators including the Water Treatment Operator Certificate, Water Operations for Hydraulic Fracturing Certificate, and the Environmental Technology Diploma.

I think it will be an interesting event. And, it's a timely topic for the oil and gas industry as more and more media and regulatory attention is focused on hydraulic fracturing and its impact on water resources. That single topic, more than any other, has brought water management issues into focus for both the public and the industry as a whole.

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