Unprecedented water use restrictions, due to widespread and
extreme drought, are in force in western parts of the US and
Canada. California is in its worst drought on record.
Widespread water shortages have prompted state governor Jerry
Brown to proclaim a State of Emergency and issue an
executive order mandating a variety of water restriction
measures and targets.
Western Canada, too, is exceptionally dry. Here is what it
looked like at the end of July, before the weather got hotter and
BC has been
struggling with an exceptionally hot and dry summer. The
reservoir levels have been so low in Vancouver that the city
has had to impose severe water restrictions, enforced
under the threat hefty fines for residents caught watering
their lawns. The hot dry weather has also led to widespread
These restrictions apply to Temporary Diversion Licences
("TDLs") for oil and gas companies operating in
particularly water-stressed areas, including the Upper Athabasca
River basin. Current TDLs in these designated areas are suspended
and/or no new applications for TDLs are not being accepted. Despite
these restrictions, the river basin has far too little water
to support natural ecosystem functioning.
The AER is also "encouraging" oil and gas operators to
voluntarily reduce water consumption in areas where mandatory
restrictions are not currently being applied.
Oilsands operations consume (and contaminate) a staggering
amount of water, the majority of which is drawn from the
Athabasca River. The restrictions announced by the AER,
while disruptive to industry, are essential due to the
severity of the drought on the province's population and
The frequency and severity of droughts is expected to increase
in the coming years as result of climate change. Indeed, scientists
now linked the extremity of the drought currently wracking
California to human-caused climate change. As a result, the
oilsands and other water-intensive industries can likely expect
such disruptions to become a more regular event.
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