We've developed revolutionary methods that will help us incorporate tailings into our reclamation program and use them in the construction of new landscapes.
Fine tails are a byproduct of the oil sand extraction process, containing suspended silts, clays and hydrocarbon residues - all of which are naturally found in the oil sands deposits. Currently, they are contained in a tailings settling basin, which is a safe and effective way of managing fine tailings during the operating period. However, this is not the final solution.
We are currently implementing a multi-pronged approach to manage tailings and comply with government regulations as specified in the Energy Resources and Conservation Board (ERCB) Directive 074. The ERCB has approved our plan, which, after 2015, is expected to exceed the requirements of the directive. Toward this, we are developing and deploying three technologies:
Further information on Directive 074 and our detailed plan can be found at www.ercb.ca
Read an article on Syncrude tailings reclamation at Alberta Oil Magazine
We are demonstrating how fresh water can be layered over a deposit of fine tails to form a lake. This is called water capping. Our research with test ponds has shown that these lakes will evolve into natural ecosystems and, over time, support healthy communities of aquatic plants, animals and fish.
Another approach to tailings management is Composite Tails (CT), which combines fine tails with gypsum and sand as the tailings are deposited. This mixture causes the tailings to settle faster, enabling us to develop landscapes that support grass, trees and wetlands. Technologies like CT give us the ability to create broadly diverse landscapes that help fulfill our commitment to reclaim the land to a stable and biologically self-sustaining state.
We are also using centrifuge technology as an additional method to manage our tailings. This technology involves putting tailings through vessels where a spinning action separates out the water. Released water will be recycled for plant operations. The soil product of the centrifuge process has sufficient density and strength to be placed in deposits, then capped and reclaimed. Extensive field tests have been done on this technology with the support of CanmetENERGY in Devon, Alberta.
We are implementing centrifuge technology in two stages - a commercial-scale plant began operations in 2012 and a $1.9 billion full-scale commercial plant will start up in 2015.