ExxonMobil has been active in collaborative industry initiatives to develop a suite of standard tools for systematic water-resource management. The IPIECA Global Water Tool for Oil and Gas is a version of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Global Water Tool customized for oil and gas companies. The tool helps companies map water use and assess risks in each part of the value chain at a regional level. ExxonMobil performs this screening exercise each year after the WBCSD updates the global water tool with new data. We report the number of facilities located in areas with some degree of water stress or scarcity in our annual Corporate Citizenship Report.
We develop and implement local water management programs in locations where we identify potential water-related risks. In some cases, this entails a review of freshwater consumption rates to identify improvement opportunities. A more focused tool is sometimes used to identify and rank risks associated with the availability and reliability of local water sources and wastewater discharge locations. ExxonMobil worked with IPIECA and the Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) to develop such a tool for the oil and gas industry to complement the IPIECA Global Water Tool.
Replace, reduce, reuse and recycle
Our operations use alternative water sources where appropriate and seek opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle water, considering potential trade-offs such as waste, energy and cost.
We consider multiple factors in determining the right approach for a given process or site, including local water availability, quality and environmental impact. We assess actual costs as well as potential trade-offs such as varying operational efficiencies, increased energy use or more concentrated waste streams. Together, these factors constitute an implicit value of water, which will vary by site due to local needs.
Global average freshwater consumption at ExxonMobil refineries is at the low end of the range of published industry estimates1. For example, our Torrance, Calif. refinery purchases and uses recycled wastewater from a local municipal treatment plant for cooling tower makeup and boiler feed water, representing nearly 70 percent of the total water consumption at that facility.
Water is a key consideration in Alberta, Canada, oil sands development. We designed the Kearl oil sands operation to run on stored water during the low-flow winter months in order to reduce withdrawals from the Athabasca River during this period. In our heavy oil operations at Cold Lake, Canada, we employ a variety of water-use reduction measures, and about 90 percent of water used on-site is non-potable water that comes to the surface along with bitumen during production.
Recycling produced water for hydraulic fracturing is a technique we increasingly use in our operations, including the Fayetteville and Marcellus Shale gas plays in the U.S. When using fresh water, we lay pipelines where feasible, reducing the need for storage pits and truck transport. After fracturing operations are completed, we appropriately treat or dispose of remaining by-products in compliance with applicable local, state and federal regulations.
Integrate ecosystem and societal considerations
ExxonMobil integrates current and future water-related ecosystem and societal considerations with broader environmental and business-planning efforts.
Protecting existing biodiversity and ecosystems is a key risk-management focus area for ExxonMobil. For example, at the Kearl oil sands project, Imperial Oil has built the first of three artificial lakes to replace areas used by oil sands development. These lakes, which will eventually connect to the existing Kearl Lake, will be deep enough to allow fish to survive winters in them, something that isn’t always possible in Kearl Lake itself. Indigenous First Nations in the region advised on the lake’s construction, and they also provided guidance on which species of fish to stock in the lakes.