2.2   A hydrologic assessment of effects from oil sands operations using a simplified water balance approach

Anil Gupta, AEMERA and Steven Guenther, Hatfield Consultants






Climate and hydrology monitoring in the oil sands region has been conducted since 1997 as part of  the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) and has continued in support of the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Plan (JOSMP). Data collection and data sharing has been a collaborative process between JOSMP implementation teams, government, and industry to limit data collection overlap and provide consistent and continued climate and hydrometric data collection in the region. Hydrologic data analysis, in the form of a water balance, is conducted on 14 watersheds in the region to determine effects of oil sands development on the hydrology of each watershed. This water balance approach allows for the assessment of effects on streamflow without the need for long-term historical datasets, which are not always available. The water balance utilizes a combination of collected field data, land change analysis from remote sensing imagery, JOSMP and Water Survey of Canada (WSC) streamflow data, and withdrawal, release, and diversion data provided by oil sands operators. These data are combined to estimate a pre-development (baseline) streamflow record to compare to monitored data to quantify the change to annual surface water streamflow. Effects on the stream environment are measured based on four hydrologic endpoints that are consistent with EIA predictions related to oil sands development:

1)  mean open-water season streamflow; 2) mean winter streamflow; 3) annual maximum streamflow; and 4) open-water season minimum streamflow.


Steven Guenther has worked on projects related to monitoring and detecting the effects of watershed development on stream hydrology for over ten years. These projects have been related to forestry, mining, and oil and gas development across Canada. He has a MSc degree studying the effects of logging practices on the thermal regimes of streams. He has been the field program coordinator of the Climate and Hydrology component of RAMP since 2009 and the component manager since 2011 and has continued leading these monitoring activities in support of the JOSMP.