We believe water is a shared and precious resource. It must be managed wisely using a balanced, integrated and sustainable approach.
Two female workers taking water samples at Wapisiw Lookout. They are wearing blue hard hats, safety glasses and gloves.

Water at a glance

Water is a precious natural resource and an essential part of our operations. We use it for all stages of oil production, from oil sands extraction and bitumen upgrading to refining products and general site use. Not only do we want to manage our water use, we want to reduce our impacts on the watersheds where we operate and protect the environment.

We’re improving our water performance and management across all of our operations. We continue to focus on water use efficiency, limiting freshwater withdrawals, optimizing recycling, and releasing treated water safely back to the environment.

Our approach

We recognize our role in managing water responsibly, and are guided by the principles of our integrated water management approach:

  • shared value of water
  • watershed management
  • reduce-reuse-release
  • integrated options analysis
Two workers checking monitoring instruments at Lake Miwasin.
Two workers checking monitoring instruments at Lake Miwasin

Monitoring and compliance

We have programs in place to support our water management, which includes monitoring and assessing the effects on ecosystems in the watersheds where we operate.

In addition to all of our site-specific monitoring, we also participate in the Oil Sands Monitoring (OSM) program along with Indigenous communities, stakeholders, environmental agencies and both provincial and federal governments. Its purpose is to track environmental impacts, and to assess cumulative environmental effects from oil sands development.


For our oil sands operations in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), a holistic approach to water management is necessary for the sustainable development of oil sands mines and our continued commitments to closure and reclamation. This approach would allow our mining operations the opportunity to optimize water management and focus efforts on water use reduction, recycle, reuse, removal and release of treated mine water.

The ability to safely release water to the watershed is a critical component of an integrated water management approach. Water release is required to manage on-site water quantity and quality for all our operations. Continuing to have to store mine water, which currently includes precipitation and runoff that comes into contact with our mining area on our sites, is not a sustainable long-term practice.

We are working with government, local communities and stakeholders to develop a policy and regulatory framework to safely release treated mine water from our oil sands sites. Integrated water management across the RMWB is key for oil sands water management and we are taking a collaborative approach to this work.

Innovation and technology

When it comes to advancing water-related technology, we continue to invest in research and development to increase efficiency (reduce and recycle) and optimize wastewater treatment. For example, we continue to reduce fluid tailings inventories at Base Plant through our holistic tailings management approach and permanent aquatic storage structure (PASS) treatment processes.

We share best practices and lessons learned with our industry peers through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). By doing so, we are confident that together we can reduce industry’s footprint and better protect our valuable water resources.

Coke water treatment process

Syncrude has been successfully conducting research on tailings water treatment using petroleum coke, a byproduct of its upgrading process. The treatment is similar to using a home water filter. The coke, which is almost pure carbon, acts as a filter to remove constituents in the water, such as naphthenic acids. Field programs show the treated water will support aquatic life and can be released in a manner to ensure protection of downstream uses.

Community engagement and industry collaboration

Regular collaboration with Indigenous communities and stakeholders on water-related issues and opportunities is important.

We engage with local communities during the development of our water management plans and as projects progress. We’re also a member of a watershed planning and advisory council that evaluates changes to the Athabasca watershed over time and advises on potential policy and management actions.