A Syncrude news and community update

Transforming tailings into reclamation-ready material

Currently under construction, the CT Plant is the centrepiece of the Aurora Tailings Management Project

A new component in Syncrude’s approach to tailings management comes online this fall, helping us tackle one of the biggest challenges facing the oil sands industry. Now over 75 per cent complete, the Aurora Tailings Management (ATM) Project will significantly reduce the volume of fine tailings by converting large amounts into reclamation-ready material.

Composed of silts, clays and leftover hydrocarbons suspended in water, fines are a byproduct of Syncrude’s extraction process. Left untreated, they can remain suspended for decades and are unsuitable for dry-land reclamation.

The construction of a new Composite Tailings (CT) Plant at Aurora is part of Syncrude’s work to meet our Energy Resources Conservation Board’s Directive 074 commitment. The industry-wide criterion sets requirements on operators to capture a specified percentage of fine tailings.

Project manager Clark Baker says those involved in the project are well aware of its importance, “I tell them, ‘you’re all doing something unique in the industry. You could work anywhere, for any contractor, but I want you to understand that what you’re working on right now is something special.’”

CT is a combination of fine tailings and coarse sand mixed with gypsum, which causes the fines to bond together into larger particles and settle faster. CT is then capped with sand and soil, which support grass, trees and wetlands.

The process has proven to be one of Syncrude’s most successful tailings management technologies. Since 2000, CT has been used to fill Syncrude’s former East Mine at Mildred Lake, in preparation for soil capping.

The $800-million Aurora CT Plant is the focal point of the ATM Project, incorporating one of three main technologies Syncrude currently uses to treat tailings. Water capping and centrifuging are also part of our integrated approach and, combined, represent a $2.7-billion investment in tailings reclamation solutions.

According to Chris Ford, project executive, these projects are tangible evidence of Syncrude’s commitment to tailings reclamation. “We aren’t talking about possible solutions at some point in the distant future. These projects are real and they are happening today.”

The CT will be pipelined to a mined-out section of Aurora and deposited to form a shallow beach. Once capping sand and soil are placed and shaped, reclamation of the CT deposit can occur in as little as one to two years. Scheduled to come online this September, the ATM Project is expected to successfully convert nearly two thirds of Aurora’s total volume of fine tailings into reclamation-ready material over the life of the mine.

“At the end of life of the mine, we will have knocked out around 150 million cubic metres of fines,” says Stu Corke, ATM operations lead. That’s equivalent to the volume of around 60,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

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