From this article the limits during drought were set with the Oil Sands companies future needs in mind rather than having anything to do with protecting the environment!
Monday » March 5 » 2007
New plan gives oilsands its fill of water, even during a drought
Firms will be able to draw 50 bathtubs worth of water a second from Athabasca River
The Edmonton Journal
Friday, March 02, 2007
CREDIT: Rick MacWilliam, The Journal, File
The Athabasca River with Suncor's oilsands plant in the background
EDMONTON - Alberta Environment's new water management plan for the Athabasca River makes some people "anxious" because it will still allow oilsands companies to withdraw water during a serious drought.
The Athabasca River Water Management Framework comes after calls from First Nations, environmentalists and a recent cabinet-appointed committee for a plan to protect the needs of people and wildlife that rely on the river.
Alberta Environment's plan relies on constant monitoring of the river's flow to make decisions about how much water companies can pump out of the Athabasca.
The river is split into five sections, or reaches, each rated in sensitivity according to how vital it is for fish spawning. If the flow of water through a reach is considered healthy, it's rated green and industry is allowed 15 per cent of the river's flow. Impacts may begin to appear during a yellow rating and withdrawals then should not be more than 10 per cent of the flow, the plan says.
About five per cent of the time, the river shrinks to a level where significant ecosystem change is expected. This warrants a red-zone label, but companies are still allowed to withdraw 15,000 litres per second.
That's a significant amount -- enough to fill 50 bathtubs, said Dan Woynillowicz, policy analyst with the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank.
"For the government to say this is protective rings hollow," he said.
Dr. David Swann, environment critic for the Liberal Party, said he's not comfortable with that part of the plan.
"That makes me very anxious, when they're still talking about withdrawals and we're down in the area where there is actual threat to survival of species."
But Environment Minister Rob Renner said the amount withdrawn during red-zone periods makes up about five per cent of the flow at the time.
Renner said the plan is significant because it represents the first opportunity the department has had to deal with environmental regulations based on the cumulative effects of an entire industry, rather than on a company-by-company basis.
Last year during the hearing for the recently approved Kearl oilsands project, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans predicted oilsands companies will withdraw a total of 15,000 litres per second by 2010. That also happens to be the withdrawal limit during red-zone periods in the winter.
Industry is pleased the water management plan is now official. The figures provide the kind of certainty industry needs to plan projects, said David Pryce, a vice-president with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
Government told industry to provide reports on how it planned to meet the new water withdrawal limits. Those reports were due at the end of January.
Ongoing scientific studies could make the water withdrawal limits tighter if fish habitat is found to be more sensitive than currently known. But Pryce said the limits are already quite conservative and he doesn't expect they will become more restrictive.
Last year, oilsands companies were licensed to take 395.7 billion litres a year from the river, the equivalent of 395,700 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
For comparison, the industries and the 930,000 people in and around Edmonton who get their water from Epcor used 121 billion litres in 2005.
FREEING THE OIL FROM THE SANDS
Oilsands companies require water to separate the bitumen from the sand.
The process involves mixing oilsands with hot water, creating a slurry.
Early methods used large tumbler drums to condition the slurry. Today, hydro-transport pipelines are used to condition and transport the oilsand from the mine to the extraction plant.
The slurry is fed into a separation vessel where it separates into three layers -- sand, water and bitumen. The bitumen is then skimmed off the top to be cleaned and processed further. In cases where the oilsands are too deep to be surface- mined, water is heated to steam and injected into the deposits to melt the bitumen, which is then pumped to the surface.
SOURCE: The Oil Sands Discovery Centre
© The Edmonton Journal 2007