Water Return Demo pano

Syncrude preparing to commission full-scale closed circuit water return treatment demonstration project

May 17, 2019

Syncrude’s full-scale closed circuit water return demonstration project will start operating this summer, 14 years after initial research began on treating mine water using petroleum coke.

“The treatment principles behind this technology are similar to a home water filter using activated carbon. Mine water treated by our petroleum coke technology removes suspended solids such as clay, as well as hydrocarbons and dissolved organic compounds, including naphthenic acids. Research to date shows the treated water will support aquatic life and protect downstream uses,” says Warren Zubot, Senior Engineering Associate, who has led Syncrude’s research on the technology.

“This project will return treated water to the Mildred Lake Settling Basin, a tailings facility and one of our main sources of recycled water. The closed circuit testing at the demonstration project will provide additional insight and confirm former research whether the quality of the treated water is suitable for eventual return to the Athabasca River based on environmental guidelines and subject to regulatory approval.”

Syncrude began researching the technology in 2005 in the laboratory before running tests on a field pilot in 2012. You can learn more about this research by watching the below video.

In addition to collecting evidence to demonstrate this technology will significantly improve water quality so it is safe for downstream uses, Warren says the project will inform industry water management practices to help ensure Syncrude advances environmental performance improvements. 

coll v11 water treatment

Pictured here, mine water before (left) and after (right) petroleum coke filtration.

“Release of water off site, which would be subject to regulatory approval, will allow Syncrude and other oil sands mining operators to advance progressive reclamation and meet mine closure targets,” he says.

Syncrude is engaging with Indigenous communities and other regional stakeholders so they’re fully informed about the project, the technology and the promising results we’ve achieved to date, as well as having the opportunity to provide thoughts and feedback.

“Public input will continue to be sought throughout the project and incorporated into decisions that may impact local communities,” says Colleen Legdon, Manager, Community Relations.

To assess the water treatment process and demonstrate ecosystem protection, Syncrude will conduct a comprehensive monitoring and testing plan to document the water quality throughout the treatment process.

“The Alberta government’s Oil Sands Process Water (OSPW) Science Team – which consists of representatives from government, industry and Indigenous communities in the region -- is helping put together the testing program,” Warren says. “Syncrude will share what we’ve learned from the project with our industry partners through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). We are also engaged with academic institutions to advance knowledge and ensure results are transparent and publicly available in peer-reviewed scientific literature.”

Syncrude values the importance of our region’s water and our commitment to reclaiming the land disturbed by our operation. This project further demonstrates our commitment to responsible development.