The United States is now the world’s largest energy user, and is rapidly becoming a net importer of energy. Much of this energy shortfall comes from Canada. Canada now supplies the United States with 24.2 per cent of its total energy needs in the form of natural gas, oil and electricity, and has replaced Saudi Arabia as the number one supplier of oil to the United States.
North American energy integration is now a fact of economic life. Few Canadians, however, appreciate how continental energy integration is already having an impact on Canada’s water security as great or greater than foreseeable water exports.
The starkest link between energy integration and the future of Canada’s water resources is most evident in the oil sands. Unlike conventional oil, Alberta’s tarry deposits are among the most water intensive hydrocarbons on the planet. Separating tar from sand not only takes enormous amounts of natural gas but requires an average of three barrels of freshwater to make just one barrel of oil.
Unrestrained oil sand development (more than 60 projects have been approved since 1996) is slowly being recognized as a threat to Canadian water security. “In view of the pace of development being considered the Athabasca River could encounter serious problems unless there is a radical change in technology in terms of water use,” noted a 2007 House of Commons report of the oil sands. Swedish energy analysts have asked a blunter question: “Are the Canadians willing to create an environmental disaster in Alberta in order to provide the world market with oil?”
POWI has conducted research in a number of key areas including:
- The impacts of oil sands development on the Athabasca River;
- The impacts of climate change on surface waters in Canada’s Western Prairie Provinces; and
- The links between energy production, water demand and water use.
- Burying Carbon Dioxide in Underground Saline Aquifers: Political Folly or Climate Change Fix?
About the Author
Graham Thomson is an award-winning journalist with the Edmonton Journal who began studying carbon capture and sequestration while on a Canadian Journalism Foundation fellowship at the University of Toronto in 2008-2009.
- How the Oil Sands Got to the Great Lakes Basin: Pipelines, Refineries and Emissions to Air and Water
- Refineries in the Great Lakes Basin are rapidly expanding to accommodate crude oil from the Alberta oil sands. This conference, “How the Oil Sands Got to the Great Lakes Basin: Pipelines, Refineries and Emissions to Air And Water,” was intended to provide an opportunity, in a university setting, to inform public opinion about the impacts of refinery expansion in the Basin, drawing on data analysis, shared information and public discussion.
- On the Table: Water, Energy and North American Integration
- Explores recent events relating to water export, including increasing water supply problems in the U.S. and Mexico, recent activities in Canada and the U.S. that promote the export of water from Canada, the myths of water abundance in Canada, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, and the water-energy nexus in a continental context.
- Water, Energy and North American Integration Conference
- Webcast of the “On the Table Conference”, held September 10, 2007 at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Includes presentations by Ralph Pentland, William Nitze, Tom Axworthy, Joe Dukert and Gordon Laxer.
- Running out of Steam? Oil sands Development and Water Use in the Athabasca River Watershed: Science and Market Based Solutions
- The implications of current and planned water withdrawals from the Athabasca River and options for water management.
- Running out of Steam? A Workshop on Oil Sands Development and Water Use in the Athabasca River Watershed: Science and Market-Based Solutions
- A group of experts and observers discuss how the oil sands extraction is affecting the Athabasca River and provide feedback on the discussion paper Running Out of Steam? Oil Sands Development and Water Use in the Athabasca River Watershed: Science and Market Based Solutions.
- Water in North America: Rising Tensions
Notes for Remarks by Adèle Hurley to the Royal Society of Canada Symposium on Water in Canada and the World
- Canadians have spent much of the last century being concerned about potential US impacts on our water supplies. This has distracted us from getting on with the job of managing our water resources in this country.
- Rising Tensions: Canada/US Cross-Border Water Issues in the 21st Century
Remarks by Adèle M. Hurley and David Schindler to the Centre for Global Studies Conference on Canada/U.S. Relations at the University of Victoria.
- Canada’s position on boundary waters needs to be strengthened to protect Canada’s water resources.