Water is an essential part of Suncor’s operations, so it’s important we find ways to continuously improve our water use efficiency (including limiting water withdrawals and optimizing recycling) and safely release water from our operations. Recognizing our role in managing water responsibly, our water strategy principles focus on:
- Shared value of water – Understanding that water is a valuable natural resource that holds environmental, social, cultural and economic value.
- Watershed management – Understanding our water use in the context of the watershed where we operate, taking into consideration our values, and the perspectives of stakeholders, and users in the watershed.
- Reduce-Reuse-Release – A truly sustainable integrated water management approach must simultaneously balance water reduce-reuse and release considerations.
- Integrated options analysis – Ensuring we balance the trade-offs inherent in managing water and understanding water as one aspect of an interconnected ecosystem.
Aligned with our water principles, our culture of operational discipline and continuous improvement guides how we manage our water use, reduce our impacts, and protect the environment.
In May 2019, members of the First Nations and Métis community were invited to the Lake Miwasin / Constructed Wetland Treatment System workshop. The workshop provided an opportunity for additional community input on the proposed research and monitoring projects for the community led monitoring program for the Lake Miwasin project.
Continuous improvement measures at our operations allow us to optimize water reduction and recycling opportunities and balance the net environmental impact and associated costs. For instance, water efficiency improvements allow Suncor to consistently use less than half of our annual water licence allotment from the Athabasca River. We also conduct and update our risk assessments annually through our enterprise risk management system for each operational asset to determine the highest-priority water issues and opportunities.
Compliance and monitoring programs
Suncor’s internal issues management processes identify and help manage ecosystem, habitat and water-related risks and opportunities, including new or changing polices and regulations related to water. Our approvals require us to monitor and assess ecosystem impacts in the watersheds where we operate. We also participate in the Oil Sands Monitoring program along with Indigenous communities, stakeholders and environmental agencies. The program conducts monitoring in the oil sands region of Alberta. Its purpose is to track environmental impacts, and to assess cumulative environmental effects from oil sands development.
Through discussions with Indigenous communities and stakeholders, we collaborate regularly on water-related issues and opportunities. We engage with local communities during the development of our water management plans and as projects progress. Suncor is also a member of the Athabasca Watershed Council (AWC) — a planning and advisory council that evaluates changes to the Athabasca watershed over time advises on potential policy and management actions.
The AWC is working on an Integrated Watershed Management Plan which will provide information, guidance and recommendations to the decision-making authorities, municipalities, Indigenous partners, natural resource managers, industries, academia, users, and residents regarding the Athabasca River watershed. In conjunction with Alberta’s Water for Life Strategy (2003), it addresses the complexity of watershed management issues that transcend landscapes, ecosystems, jurisdictions, and water users in the Athabasca watershed.
We’re working with government, local communities and stakeholders to develop the policy and regulatory framework to safely treat and release mine water from our oil sands sites. Integrated water management across the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is key for oil sands water management, and we are taking a collaborative approach to this work. We believe water release is part of managing water responsibly and is critical to achieving successful operations and progressive reclamation and closure.
fresh water consumption
water recycle rate at Base Plant and Fort Hills mining facilities
water recycle rate at Firebag and MacKay River in situ facilities
Technology and innovation
When it comes to advancing water-related technology, we continue to invest in research and technology development to increase efficiency (reduce and recycle) and optimize wastewater treatment. For example, since 2010, we have reduced fluid tailings inventories by greater than 10% at Base Plant.
As we advance this work, we’re sharing best practices and lessons learned with our industry peers, through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance.
Suncor is working with H2nanO, a Canadian industrial wastewater treatment company, on a technology called SolarPass to treat process-affected water. SolarPass uses sunlight-activated particles in the water that treat hard-to-break-down organic contaminants and volatile emissions. In 2020, Suncor and H2nanO successfully completed a series of laboratory demonstrations that resulted in reduced emissions and organic contaminants in the water. Work is ongoing to test at a larger scale and for long-term reliability.