Canadian Suncor consumed more fresh water for oil sands in 2019

Author: Annalise Porter


HOUSTON (ICIS)--Suncor consumed 11% more fresh water at its operations during 2019, Canada’s integrated energy and refining major said in its annual sustainability report.

Suncor’s oil sands operations - which produce sulphur - utilise water from four sources: rivers, groundwater pumped from wells, precipitation, and recycled wastewater. Some of the water used is treated and put into the Athabasca river.

During 2019, fresh water consumption decreased at Suncor’s Base Plant mining operation, as well as the Firebag and MacKay river in situ facilities. All three had a water recycle rate of above 92%.

The overall increase came due to the ramping up of the Fort Hills oil sands mine. The operation is building up an initial water supply inventory that will then be recycled and reused.

Suncor water usage (cubic meters)

2019 2018
Fresh water consumption 51.6m 46.5m
Fresh & non-freshwater consumption 143m 145m
 - Surface (river) water 111m 107m
 - Ground (well) water 4m 3m
 - Municipal (city) water 4m 4m
 - Treated wastewater 2m 2m
 - Industrial runoff water 23m 29m

(1 cubic metre = 264 gallons)

During the year, Suncor tested a new treatment system for its tailings. Tailings, produced as part of the mining process, are a liquid slurry mixture of mineral pieces and water.

According to the company, the system, called PASS (permanent aquatic storage structure), treated 25m cubic metres of tailings. This is 2.3 times the amount of tailings produced that were not treated during the year.

Tailings ponds are commonly used to hold untreated slurry. In 2019, Suncor had six active ponds and three in the process of closing.

Suncor in 2019 returned 77m cubic metres of treated and untreated water to rivers, watersheds and disposal wells, which is on par with the previous year.

Water and tailings management are regulated in Canada by multiple governmental agencies, along with several Indigenous communities.

Canada is among the world's largest sulphur producers and exporters. In 2019, the country ranked third in exports, at 2.7m tonnes, according to Statistics Canada data that are accessible via the ICIS Supply & Demand Database.