Oil Sands and Mining Water Management


Surface and groundwater supplies in the oil sands region are under increasing stress due to high demand for surface mining, in situ extraction and refining processes and related industrial and municipal development. On average, one barrel of produced oil requires three barrels of produced water. This ratio is expected to increase; for example, during startup phases of steam-assisted gravity drainage operations as development of steam chambers occurs underground.

Management of water resources in the oil sands region is a technical challenge that requires a sharper focus on potential concerns, including impacts on the regional water cycle and specific ecosystems such as wetlands and lakes, identification of surface and groundwater connections that may influence contaminant migration pathways, and knowledge of natural buffering capacity of aquatic ecosystems in the boreal forest.

Challenges and opportunities

  • Developing technologies to help manage and balance water supply for oil sands and mining development projects while maintaining acceptable water quality and ecosystem or watershed function.
  • Assessing regional critical loads to lakes, acid sensitivity mapping, study of water quantity/water quality relationships in both pristine and developing watersheds, and mine-site hydrology and contaminants management.
  • Contributing to a secure water supply for oil sands and mining operators by providing expert advice, high precision analytical technologies, modeling and support.


The oil sands and mining water management program's core technology platform is a suite of isotopic and geochemical tracers for advanced water resources assessments, including evaluation of age and sustainability of surface water and groundwater resources, groundwater/surface water interaction, water balance of lakes, recharge and discharge estimation, water supply, and climate and developmental impact assessments.

The program's strategic intent includes the design and implementation of field sampling surveys and instrumentation, GIS and climate analysis, stable isotope, radioisotope and geochemical analysis, data processing, modeling, interpretation, and database management.

This technical information is merged with company data and knowledge bases to deliver water management solutions for oil sands and mining operators.

  • Hydrogeologic and hydrologic resource evaluation
  • Hydrologic and hydrogeologic modeling
  • Water isotope tracing for fingerprinting of water sources, origin, and water age
  • Solute isotope tracing for fingerprinting of salinity sources, origin, and history
  • Impacts of capture and evaluation of adaptive management strategies for SAGD operations
  • Climate versus development impacts on water cycle
  • Laboratory isotope services

Isotope hydrology and geochemistry lab

Tech Futures' isotope hydrology and geochemistry laboratory is a world-class analytical facility designed to support applied research projects in water resources, sustainable oil and gas development, mining and in situ oil sands development and a range of environmental studies. It houses a Thermo-Fisher Delta V Advantage IRMS with HDevice and Gasbench, as well as a 253 with a Trace GC Ultra and GC Isolink. The lab provides analysis of natural abundance variations of the stable isotopes of water (deuterium, 2H , and oxygen-18, 18O) and carbon-13, 13C, in dissolved inorganic carbon for water resources applications. It also offers analysis of carbon-13, 13C, and deuterium, 2H, in natural gases (C1-C4) and carbon-13 in carbon dioxide (CO2) for oil and gas studies and environmental investigations. Methane can be routinely measured down to 20 ppm and dissolved methane gas down to 10 ug/L. Other custom analysis, including compound-specific isotope analysis are available on request. 

The lab maintains a range of field-based instrumentation including 2 Durridge RAD7 sensors for in situ measurement of Radon-222 used for assessment of surface/groundwater exchange. 

Read more


  • Quantifying water availability in oil sands
  • Baseline water resources assessment
  • Fingerprinting of water sources, age and aquifer interaction
  • Surface/subsurface water exchange in lakes and wetlands
  • Process affected water tracing
  • Quantifying runoff in ungauged areas
  • Regional acid sensitivity surveys and critical loads assessment
  • Nitrogen amendment studies
  • Wetland function and reclamation
  • Identifying sources of inflow to mine workings
  • Geochemistry of mine tailings
  • Forestry and hydroelectric development impacts on water cycle


For more information, contact:

John Gibson 
Team Lead
Water Management