Water is essential to our business. Whether it’s water flood techniques used to improve production from mature conventional oil fields or steam needed for oil sands production, most of our operations require water. The success of our operations depends on our ability to access and use water efficiently.

We primarily use saline (salty) water and produced water for steam production at our oil sands operations. A small amount of the water we use to make the steam, typically around two percent, is fresh water from underground aquifers. We don’t use surface water from lakes or streams to make steam, but we do receive regulatory approval to draw fresh water from surface and underground sources for use at our camps, for road maintenance, and for drilling and construction across all of our operations. We also use fresh water to build ice roads.

We're always looking for ways to reduce the amount of water we use and be more efficient with how we use it. We consider many options, including developing new technologies and processes to handle water, finding ways to recycle and reuse more water and identifying ways to replace fresh water with more saline water for use in our operations.


Our goal is to manage our use of water resources efficiently and responsibly and to further reduce our water use and protect ground and surface water. We do this by:

  • Monitoring our water use and our potential impact on water quality by having teams from across the company – in areas such as environment, regulatory, geochemistry, well integrity and engineering – collaborate to evaluate our water use and the availability of saline water and fresh water. Together with our industry partners, we also provide funding to third-party monitoring agencies.
  • Using a mobile app to improve the way we track fresh water usage. Moving from paper forms to a centralized system improves reporting quality, reduces time and costs associated with data entry and results in improved data accessibility.
  • Working with neighbouring and regional users of water sources to understand long-term availability and to monitor groundwater and surface water around our operations
  • Recycling more water for steam generation at our oil sands operations through our patented blowdown boiler technology, which has the potential to reduce our demand for additional water by up to 50 percent
    • at the end of 2015, we commissioned and started up two blowdown boilers at Christina Lake. The boilers provided the ability to convert 93 percent of each barrel of water we use into steam.
  • Reusing our camps’ waste water after it’s been treated and approved for release to build ice roads, for use in dust suppression and in our drilling activities
  • Continuing to develop and invest in technologies that can reduce our water use per barrel of oil produced, such as the use of ultra high quality steam technology and solvent aided process (SAP)
  • Evaluating our water use performance relative to that of our peers and other industries to continuously improve. We’re collaborating on best management practices through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) to share our learnings and learn from others.

Cenovus works with government, regulators and peers to manage cumulative water consumption. For example, at our Christina Lake oil sands project, we work together with other neighbouring operators through the Christina Lake Regional Water Management Agreement to have a collective approach to water demand. This enables us to understand the total current and future demand on groundwater sources in the area and plan our water sourcing and waste water disposal strategies together to minimize our impact on the environment. Additionally, Cenovus actively engages with local communities and First Nations groups regarding our water use plans through the regulatory process and through participation on various local and regional organizations. Cenovus also participates in the CDP’s Water Disclosure, a voluntary program that allows companies to share information about water management and governance, water-related risks, opportunities and water accounting.


Fresh water use – company wide

Fresh water use - company wide

Fresh water intensity – company wide

Fresh water intensity - company wide

Fresh water is used across our operations for oil production as well as for non-production activities such as drilling, well completions, ice roads, dust control and at our camps. In 2015, our overall fresh water use for production increased, mainly due to a greater need at our oil sands assets while non-production fresh water use decreased because of reduced drilling and well completions work. Historical values have been restated. Refer to data table and footnote WT-04.

Fresh water use – oil sands

Fresh water use - oil sands

Fresh water intensity – oil sands

Fresh water intensity - oil sands

Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) technology relies on steam to get the oil from our oil sands projects out of the ground – meaning the success of our operations depends on our ability to access and use water efficiently. Of the water that was used for steam production at our Foster Creek and Christina Lake oil sands projects in 2015, over 85 percent came from recycled produced water, 12.5 percent from saline groundwater and 2.5 percent from fresh groundwater. We do not use any water from lakes or streams to make steam in our oil sands operations.

We used more fresh water at our oil sands operations in 2015 partly because of the need for additional steam during the start-up of new production at both our Foster Creek and Christina Lake operations. This occurred during a period when less produced water was available. Produced water is the water returned with the oil from our wells that we recycle to use for steam generation. At the same time, the Foster Creek equipment we use to treat saline water before it can be used for steam reached its capacity so we had to use more fresh water for steam creation. In addition, we used more fresh water at our Christina Lake operation during short intervals when some saline water treating equipment was offline for repairs. 

Members of COSIA’s Water Environmental Priority Area, including Cenovus, have committed to reduce industry fresh water use intensity by 50 percent by 2022 from 2012 levels. The target for oil sands producing wells is a fresh water intensity of 0.20 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced. Historical values have been restated. Refer to data table and footnote EM-08.

Foster Creek fresh and saline water use intensity for production

Our Foster Creek operation has made great strides over the last decade, decreasing fresh water consumption by 89 percent since 2006. We achieved this by recycling more water and using saline (salty) water instead of fresh groundwater. In 2006, we used about a barrel of fresh water to produce a barrel of oil. Today it takes us less than 0.11 of a barrel of fresh water to produce a barrel of oil.