Suncor continues to address tailings management through the implementation of new tailings technologies and collaboration with industry peers. Learn more:

We continue to address tailings management through the implementation of new technologies & industry collaboration

Suncor continues to address tailings management through the implementation of new tailings technologies and collaboration with industry peers. Learn more:

Suncor continues to address tailings management through the implementation of new tailings technologies and collaboration with industry peers. Learn more:

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Suncor employees at the Nikanotee Fen, an environmental reclamation initiative

Tailings management

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Finding ways to get fluid tailings to dewater more quickly and become suitable for reclaiming is critical to improving our overall reclamation performance. Left unmanaged, these fluid tailings could take centuries to naturally dewater enough to be reclaimed.

All forms of mining — whether coal, gold, uranium or potash — produce tailings. Mining operators must determine how to safely and effectively dispose of this byproduct. With mining operations on the scale of the oil sands, the challenge is all the more daunting.

Oil sands tailings are the remaining sand, water, clay, silt and residual hydrocarbons left after the majority of the hydrocarbons are extracted from the ore during our water-based extraction process. Fluid tailings are formed from the portion of clay that does not become trapped in the trafficable tailings sand. In situ drilling of oil sands bitumen does not produce tailings.

Suncor employs a holistic approach to tailings management called Tailings Reduction Operations (TROTM). TROTM includes:

  • Fluid Transfer and Storage Systems
  • Sand Dumps
  • Dedicated Disposal Areas

As mining operations expanded fluid tailings volumes increased. Suncor currently has about 300 million cubic metres (m3) of fluid tailings. Since launching TROTM six years ago, it has helped prevent the further increase in fluid tailings volumes on site at Suncor’s base plant.

Oil sands tailings management

Over the past six years, Suncor’s approach has allowed us to reclaim a tailings pond (Wapisiw Lookout) and make another one trafficable through the use of coke capping technology and we are in the process of converting another one to a dedicated disposal area.

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Tailings Management Framework

In 2015, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) introduced a new oil sands policy called the Tailings Management Framework. This policy outlines expectations for new and legacy fluid tailings and sets requirements for each operation to steward to a fluid tailings volume profile.

During the fall of 2015, Suncor was invited to work with Aboriginal communities, Alberta Energy Regulator and other stakeholders to support development of a new tailings directive under this new provincial policy.

To meet the new requirements, Suncor is looking to add treatment capacity. We propose adding an in-mine dedicated disposal area to our TROTM operation based on what we’ve learned through our implementation of TROTM and from members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

Raising the bar: tailings collaboration

As a member of COSIA, Suncor is sharing  details of our tailings technologies with other member companies. In return, we are provided access to the technologies that others are using to manage their tailings.

Through shared research, experience, expertise and financial commitments we are able to investigate new tailings technologies at a more rapid pace. We anticipate this resource-sharing through COSIA will improve tailings management now and at future oil sands mine sites.

Learn more about COSIA’s tailings environmental priority area.

Coke capping technology

Suncor is also accelerating tailings pond reclamation by using petroleum coke, a byproduct of upgraded bitumen, to help create a solid surface on the company’s Pond 5.

The coke capping layer is light enough to float on the surface of the pond and yet strong enough to allow trucks to drive over the pond surface. Wicking drains in the coke cap, which act like straws, remove the water and potentially separate tailings and reclamation material.

The Pond 5 coke capping project is one of the largest field trials of a tailings technology anywhere in the world. The required consolidation is expected to be complete by 2019; at that point, further reclamation activities can start.

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