Total dissolved solids (TDS) concentrations of 258 Lower Cretaceous McMurray Formation water samples in the Athabasca oil sands region (54 to 58°N and 110 to 114°W) were mapped using published data from recent government reports and environmental impact assessments. McMurray Formation waters varied from nonsaline (240 mg/L) to brine (279,000 mg/L) with a regional trend of high salinity water approximately following the partial dissolution front of the Devonian Prairie Evaporite Formation. The simplest hydrogeological explanation for the observed formation water salinity data is that Devonian aquifers are locally connected to the McMurray Formation via conduits in the sub-Cretaceous karst system in the region overlying the partial dissolution front of the Prairie Evaporite Formation. The driving force for upward formation water flow is provided by the Pleistocene glaciation events that reversed the regional Devonian flow system over the past 2 m.y. in the Athabasca region. This study demonstrates that a detailed approach to hydrogeological assessment is required to elucidate TDS concentrations in McMurray Formation waters at an individual lease-area scale. The observed heterogeneity in formation water TDS and the potential for present day upward flow has implications for both mining and in situ oil sands resource development.

You do not currently have access to this article.