Continued energy resource development in Alberta relies on groundwater and surface water sources, motivating the provincial regulators to seek more comprehensive strategies for water resource management than previously used. As provincial water demand increases, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development are transitioning to cumulative effects analysis of groundwater development, to assess available and potentially competing uses of groundwater resources. Consequently, these agencies are exploring technical and policy requirements to move from pumping test based authorizations to an enhanced management framework that combines groundwater mapping and numerical models. The characterization of deep and shallow aquifers, and the advancement of existing methodologies, are currently a focus of the AER’s Alberta Geological Survey (AGS). Assessing the potential of deep aquifers as water sources for shale oil and gas development, oil sands production, and for geological storage must involve an inventory and characterization of hydrogeological properties.
Recent projects have focused on evaluating management tools and methods for predicting cumulative effects on aquifers, while simultaneously considering all other pumping authorizations and the baseflow needs for surface water. Integrating a numerical model into the regulatory process relies on establishing a consistent support infrastructure to develop, test and then provide decision makers access to these models. This presentation will demonstrate recent advancements in characterizing deep aquifers, provide results of geological and hydrogeological mapping, and illustrate our approach to groundwater model development. The regional groundwater flow models being developed at the AGS provide scientific results to regulators making decisions on water authorizations by a decision-support system. This work has been targeted to support Alberta regulatory and science agencies as they transition to managing the cumulative effects associated with current and future resource development scenarios.