Samantha Murphy: Providing fresh ideas for protecting freshwater
The "Us" in Cenovus
November 2021 – Water is one of the most important natural resources in the world, playing a vital role in our communities and day-to-day lives. It not only supports household, recreational and environmental activities, but also industrial and agricultural operations — and that’s what Samantha Murphy, Senior Hydrogeologist at Cenovus Energy, works to protect every day.
“I grew up in Ontario which borders on the Great Lakes — some of the largest freshwater resources in the world,” says Samantha. “As a hydrogeologist, or groundwater scientist, I study how water interacts with the natural environment and work to better understand some of the challenges our environment is facing.”
Water plays an essential role in our operations. We use it to generate steam for the steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) process at our oil sands and thermal projects, to drill and complete wells, to cool and wash equipment and to maintain access roads at our sites. Samantha works with teams across the company to manage water-related risks, improve water supply and waste water disposal, and reduce the risk of environmental impacts.
“At Cenovus, we’re always looking for innovative ways to reduce the amount of water we use and be more efficient with how we use it,” says Samantha. “Groundwater is one of our most important yet overlooked natural resources, especially in Western Canada. It’s naturally replenished by surface water from precipitation, streams and rivers, and makes up about 99% of the world’s freshwater — water that’s acceptable for household use.”
Samantha leads programs that assess options for using groundwater at our projects, with the goal of ensuring that groundwater withdrawal can be sustainable without negatively impacting domestic water wells or local wetlands, streams and lakes — now and in the future. These programs include the exploration of alternative water sources such as saline groundwater or industrial or municipal wastewater to identify opportunities to reduce our freshwater use. Part of Samantha’s role is to design, implement and maintain effective groundwater monitoring solutions that continuously analyze groundwater quality and water levels for potential impacts from operations.
“When you look at what I do every day, it’s clear that Canadian oil and gas companies like Cenovus are environmentally progressive and lead the energy sector when it comes to sustainable development,” says Samantha. “We operate under very stringent environmental regulations and strive to go above and beyond the requirements by participating in research initiatives and supporting the advancement of environmental policy. Collaborating with government, communities and industry peers in bigger-picture aspects of water management is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.”
Cenovus’s research investments include looking at how climate change impacts the North Saskatchewan River, how thermal effects to groundwater from SAGD operations cause changes to groundwater chemistry and how innovative technologies can improve freshwater efficiency. We also partner with neighbouring operators and government bodies to develop regional monitoring to understand cumulative effects from oil sands development.
“We have some of the most magnificent waterways in Canada and I’m grateful to be able to spend time around them on a regular basis,” says Samantha. “I’m extremely proud of the work we’re doing at Cenovus to protect them and am reminded of the importance of my work each day when I look at the beautiful Bow River running through the heart of Calgary.”
SAGD means minimal surface disturbance and no tailings ponds.