Power plants and factories top oil sands for water use

Thermal power plants fired by nuclear reactors and coal prove thirstier: StatsCan

November 01, 2010

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While environmental attention is riveted on oil sands development as a symbol of interference with nature, older economic sectors dominate Canadian industrial water use.

Thermal power plants fired by nuclear reactors and coal lead the pack, says the latest national survey compiled by Statistics Canada. Electricity generation with steam accounts for 83 per cent of an annual total of 33.6 billion cubic meters of water withdrawn from the environment for all industrial purposes.

Manufacturing makes the second-largest industrial call on Canadian water supplies by soaking up 15.5 per cent of the total. Mining of all types places a distant third on the thirst scale at 1.6 per cent.

The rankings are the same for wastewater discharges. Of 32.8 billion cubic meters returned into the environment after industrial use annually, thermal power stations account for 83.3 per cent, manufacturing 14.4 per cent and mining 2.3 per cent.

Within the manufacturing sector, two old Canadian mainstays account for a 71 per cent majority of water use. Paper-making leads with 38 per cent, followed closely by metal products at 33 per cent. The next-thirstiest form of manufacturing, chemicals, trails at a distant nine per cent, followed closely by oil refining and operations that turn coal into value-added products at eight per cent, then the food and beverage industry at six per cent.

In mining, digging up metals at widely dispersed operations far away from Alberta’s oil sands accounts for 72 per cent of industrial water use.

Like the bitumen belt, agricultural irrigation and livestock are less burdensome than they are made to appear. “More water is embedded in forest products than food,” Statistics Canada says. “When precipitation was included, the production of exported lumber, wood pulp, paper and other forest products required seven times more water than the production of exported agricultural commodities.”

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