Skip to main content

Water is an essential component in many oil and gas operations. Our water team is responsible for reviewing, assessing, and making decisions on water use and have the expertise and tools to make informed water management choices.

Protecting and maintaining environmental and community water needs are our priorities.

The largest use of water for oil and gas activities is for hydraulic fracturing. However, water is used for other purposes, such as:

Water uses

How water is accessed

There are different ways companies may obtain permission to use water for their operations. Some are through provincial legislation like water licenses and short-term water use or diversion approvals. Companies may also access water through private agreements with land owners who have a licenced water supply. These agreements are outside our oversight but do require authorization under the Water Sustainability Act.

How much water is used

Our overall goal is to ensure the water needs of the environment and other users are addressed before allocating water for industry use. Each year, the amount of water withdrawn by industry averages 0.004 per cent of the total volume of mean annual runoff in northeast B.C., the heart of oil and gas activity in the province.

Water bucket final
Runoff is excess water the earth can’t absorb, such as when snow melts and flows into streams, wetlands and lakes. The amount of runoff replenished annually in northeast B.C. is based on decades of stream flow measurement by the Water Survey of Canada.

How we ensure sustainable water use

By collecting water use figures and monitoring real-time streamflow data, our water team is well equipped to make decisions on water use applications, suspend withdrawals during times of drought, manage water rights, and protect the volume of water flow required for the proper functioning of aquatic ecosystems.

The BC Water Tool provides us with accurate, real-time information about water resources and existing water users in B.C. It’s also a gateway to the Northeast Water Tool (NEWT), our award-winning hydrology support tool that provides us with the flow needs of streams and lakes through Watershed Reporting and Cumulative Diversion Analysis, as well as retrieval and compilation of groundwater-related data with the Groundwater Review Assistant. Along with NEWT, tools for other regions across B.C. are available within the BC Water Tool.

BCOGC Data Centre

Water Portal

Water Sources

Most water used for oil and gas activities is withdrawn from surface sources, such as rivers, streams, and dugouts, with minor amounts sourced from shallow groundwater aquifers. The graphic below illustrates the differences between these water sources and how groundwater is found in aquifers – underground layers of permeable material – which may be accessed by drilling a groundwater well.

Water Source graphic FINAL

How Water is Reused

Water is the primary constituent of fluid for hydraulic fracture stimulation of wells. Flowback water (water that flows back following the fracturing process) must be metered and reported. Advancements in technology allow the reuse of this flowback water for subsequent hydraulic fracturing operations in other wells. The reuse of flowback water reduces the need for freshwater withdrawal to support this activity. Preliminary information shows over 50 per cent of water used for hydraulic fracturing in B.C. is reused flowback water.

Tracking and reporting water use

When companies withdraw water by way of water licences and short-term use approvals, they must regularly report how much water they withdrew and from which water management basin. This data is summarized and made available to the public on a quarterly basis by way of Quarterly Water Management Summary Reports.

Water samples taken from oil and gas water source wells are analyzed and the data published in Drilling Data for All Wells in B.C. in the Data Centre.

Specific water use activities must also be reported, such as the ones listed below.

After hydraulic fracturing, companies must report the volumes of water injected, well behaviour, and disclosure of fracture fluids.

Produced water refers to the water produced as a by-product during the process of extracting oil or gas. It is a brackish, or saline solution from underground formations that is brought to the surface.

Water may be injected into underground formations to enhance the volume of oil or natural gas being recovered. A disposal well is often a depleted oil or gas well, into which waste fluids, such as produced water, can be injected for safe disposal.

Additional Resources

Water Management Frequently Asked Questions

Why is water used for hydraulic fracturing?

Water is used for various stages of unconventional gas development. It is used during geophysical exploration, for washing equipment, to freeze winter ice roads, for dust control, for drilling wells, as part of the hydraulic fracturing injection process and for hydrostatic testing of pipelines.

During the hydraulic fracturing stage of unconventional gas development, water is mixed with sand and chemicals and pumped down the wellbore. Fractures are then created in the target formation, allowing natural gas to flow up the wellbore.

How is water allocated for oil and gas activities?

The BC Energy Regulator (BCER) has delegated authority to issue water licences under Section 9 and short-term water use approvals under Section 10 of the Water Sustainability Act. We consider a number of key points when reviewing water use applications, such as runoff levels in rivers, groundwater aquifer productivity, other water users and ecological values. Community and ecological needs must be able to be sustained before a water licence or approval is issued and conditions may be attached to the licence or approval. The BCER is a proactive regulator with the authority to intervene when necessary.

How much water is used?

The BCER tracks all water used for hydraulic fracturing and other oil and gas purposes through regulatory reporting requirements. Water use for oil and gas purposes varies significantly from month to month and year to year depending on a variety of factors including industry growth, well completion and production aspects, seasonal factors, water restrictions, or other factors. In 2018, approximately 3.28 million m3 of surface water and groundwater was used for oil and gas activities. On a per well basis, the volume of water used for hydraulic fracturing ranges from 10,000 to 70,000 m3 depending on the targeted formation and the number of fracture stimulations.

In most river basins, the total approved surface water use is a fraction of the mean annual surface runoff. For the majority of basins, approved water use corresponds to less than fraction of a per cent of mean annual runoff.

How is groundwater quality protected?

Provincial laws outline how the oil and gas industry must ensure water resources, including groundwater, are protected from contamination throughout the lifecycle of an oil and gas activity (from application through restoration) Regulatory provisions for groundwater protection include:

  1. Prevention requirements (e.g., setbacks and location restrictions, engineering specifications and standards for all wells, pipelines, and facilities, operational requirements, testing and emergency preparedness requirements)
  2. Monitoring requirements (e.g., operational safety and environmental monitoring and reporting)
  3. Mitigation requirements (e.g., emergency response, site remediation and reclamation)

In addition to legislation, special conditions may be prescribed in permits for energy activities, to address site-specific issues or concerns.

As an example for engineering requirements for oil and gas wells, pressure-tested steel casings are cemented in place to prevent deeper underground fluids (e.g., saline water, oil, gas) and hydraulic fracturing fluids from migrating into freshwater aquifers. At the time of well decommissioning, requirements include isolating porous intervals using cement, and cutting and capping the well below ground prior to site restoration.

What happens to produced water?

Produced water, saline water originating from deep formations which comes to the surface with natural gas and oil production, is injected into approved disposal wells. If this water is produced from an oil pool under waterflood recovery, the water is re-injected back into the same pool.

Produced water includes the flow-back of water-based hydraulic fracture fluid. Currently, about 50 per cent of this produced water is reused in hydraulic fracturing operations. This produced water may be stored temporarily before re-use but is eventually injected into approved disposal service wells, both which are subject to strict regulations.

What is being done to ensure water supplies are conserved?

To ensure river and lake levels are conserved for community water supplies and fish and aquatic resources are not impacted, the BCER can and does issue suspensions of short-term water use by the energy industry during drought conditions. Water licences contain specific conditions to limit withdrawals during periods of low flow. All groundwater licence applications are reviewed for potential hydraulic connection with surface water.

Approximately, 65 per cent of water used for oil and gas activities comes from surface water. The remaining 35 per cent comes from recycled water such as flowback fluids from operations or deep groundwater aquifers located more than 800m below the surface. Some water comes from shallow groundwater aquifers typically shallower than 300 m below ground.

On average, there is an abundance of water in northeast B.C. but it needs to be managed carefully, for example the BCER halts industry water withdrawals during periods of seasonal low flow and drought. The BCER has also developed NEWT to support decision makers by providing average water availability and water approval data, for streams and lakes.

Where can I find more data or information?

Fact Sheets defining water used in natural gas activities can be found here.

We publish water allocation and use data here. For each basin, the mean annual runoff is listed.

The Northeast Water Tool (NEWT) provides information for decision makers on average streamflow conditions and water authorized for use.

The Water Portal provides a range of water-related data and information.

The Groundwater Review Assistant (GWRA) compiles available groundwater data to assist in conducting hydrogeological reviews for groundwater licence applications or to support review for a variety of groundwater protection aspects.

Links to all water tools are available here:

If you have further questions about water use for oil and gas activities in B.C. or the Regulator in general, please email