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Water management

Water and energy are interrelated, and both are critical for society, economic development and the environment. ExxonMobil manages water resources with care, using the same systems, processes and policies that govern our overall approach to environmental management.

In 2014, we published four key commitments in a framework for water management that focus on preventing adverse impacts to water resources while carefully managing the water we do use.

We are committed to minimizing the impacts of our water withdrawals, consumption and discharges. In 2014, the net freshwater consumption at our operations was 270 million cubic meters, representing a continued decline since 2011. We have reduced our freshwater consumption by 15 percent since 2007, in part due to local water management strategies. ExxonMobil’s total water consumption includes use by Downstream refineries and Chemical plants, Upstream oil and gas production, and XTO Energy for onshore shale development in the United States. The vast majority of our water consumption occurs in Downstream refineries and Chemical plants, with XTO Energy accounting for only approximately 4 percent of the total.

Global freshwater consumption

We recognize some of our operations can use significant amounts of water, and we engage with stakeholders regarding their concerns about the use and protection of local water resources. We consider local water requirements and alternatives when sourcing water for our activities, including identifying and managing the risks related to water availability and quality. Of our major operating sites, approximately 30 percent are located in areas identified with the potential for water stress or scarcity. We develop and implement local water management strategies, including the use of freshwater alternatives such as recycled municipal and industrial wastewater, seasonal water management and rainwater harvesting.

Local water management efforts at key sites have contributed to the gradual decline in our water consumption since 2011. For example, the wastewater treatment facility at our Singapore chemical plant uses state-of-the-art membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology to treat wastewater, enabling it to be reused as cooling water. This reduces the overall amount of freshwater used in the plant by 3 percent, and the remaining treated wastewater to be discharged is well within the specifications set by the Singapore government. Since reuse of the MBR-treated water started in May 2014, on average, 30 to 40 percent of treated water is reused as cooling water, and further increases are planned.

We use alternative water sources where appropriate and seek opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle water. We assess actual costs, quality and availability, as well as potential trade-offs, such as varied operational efficiencies, increased energy use or the consequences of producing more concentrated waste streams.

Another example, from the Upstream operations, shows our continual efforts to use research and operational analysis to improve capabilities and performance. Imperial, an ExxonMobil affiliate in Canada, committed to freshwater reduction projects at its Cold Lake operations as part of a water license renewal in 2011. By 2014, the projects were completed and successfully reduced freshwater consumption by 30 percent compared with the 2006-2008 average. Imperial is also a member of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an industry group focused on improvements in environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands through collaborative action and innovation. One key focus area for COSIA is to reduce freshwater intensity for in situ oil sands operations, which will require COSIA members to improve water use efficiency and recycle rates within their operations.