Jackfish is the first commercial steam-assisted gravity drainage operation in the oil sands to use only saline water, instead of freshwater.
â€œI think going forward, this will be the standard,â€ Watson said.
Devon pulls water from nearby sand formations for use in its steam generators. That water is cycled through the operation about eight or nine times before it is put back into a deeper well.
At Jackfish, about 80 percent of the water is recycled, but officials are working to push that figure to at least 85 percent.
The operation is an elaborate warren of pipes that run between the well sites and the production area.
Those pipes carry steam, emulsion and natural gas, which is used instead of pumps to push the softened bitumen to the surface.
Jackfish draws from four pads, each with seven paired wells. One injects steam into the ground, while the other produces the oil.
At the production facility, about 70 percent of the equipment is devoted to steam generation and water treatment, operations coordinator Dale Emery said.
Massive boilers turn about 85 percent of saline water into steam, then separators filter out the remaining water.
The facility also has filters to strip oil out of the water that returns from the wellheads.
â€œWe try to make sure we capture every drop of oil,â€ Watson said.
The technology that allows operators to profit from their efforts in Canada's oil sands isn't likely to translate right away into oil-laden shale formations in the United States.
Will Yakymyshyn, vice president of Devon's heavy oil division, said it is easy to separate the oil from sand in Canada, but that hasn't proven to be the case in U.S. shale formations where oil has been found.