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

Suncor continues to address tailings management through new fluid tailings reduction approaches

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

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

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Tailings management

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Finding ways to get fluid tailings to be suitable for reclaiming is critical to improving our overall reclamation performance. Left unmanaged, these fluid tailings could take centuries to be reclaimed.

All forms of mining – whether coal, gold, uranium or potash – produce tailings. Mining operators must determine how to safely and effectively manage this byproduct. With the scale of oil sands mining operations, 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 recovered from the oil sands during our water-based extraction process. Fluid tailings are clay particles that do not bind to the trafficable tailings sand. Fluid tailings represent less than 10% of the total mineral from the oil sands.

Suncor Base plant has a holistic approach to tailings management called Tailings Reduction Operations (TRO™). TRO™ includes:

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

As mining operations expanded, fluid tailings volumes increased. With the implementation of TRO™ in 2010, fluid tailings volumes at site have remained steady. Suncor currently has about 300 million cubic metres of fluid tailings.

The Suncor-operated Fort Hills project is targeting first oil by the end of 2017. This mine is leveraging the operating experience of the other mining operators through Suncor’s involvement in COSIA. Fort Hills plans to treat fluid tailings from the start of operations with extraction thickeners and tailings sand placement activities to reduce the amount of fluid tailings created and minimize further treatment. Tailings operations will begin with an out-of-pit tailings area with plans to transition to below-grade tailings treatment once space is made available in the first mining area. The peak fluid tailings inventory at Fort Hills is expected to be only 126 million cubic metres. This represents a step-change in fluid tailings management compared to industry demonstrated inventories.

Oil sands tailings management

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

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Tailings Directive

In 2016, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) introduced a new oil sands directive called the Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects (Tailings Directive 85). This regulation includes tailings management plan application and tailings performance reporting requirements aligned with the government’s Tailings Management Framework released in 2015.

During the fall of 2016, Suncor was invited to work with Aboriginal communities, the Alberta Energy Regulator and other stakeholders to support development of version 2 of the Tailings Directive. This version added sections on performance evaluation, compliance and enforcement.

To meet the new requirements, Suncor is requesting to add treatment capacity to our TRO™ operations at Base plant and Fort Hills is updating its tailings management plan to align with the new requirements in the Tailings Directive under the Tailings Management Framework policy. The updated plans are based on what we’ve learned through our implementation of TRO™ and from members of COSIA.

Raising the bar: tailings collaboration

As a member of COSIA, Suncor is sharing details of our tailings technologies with the other member companies. In return, we are provided access to the technologies that others are using to manage their tailings. By the end of 2016, the industry had shared $705 million of tailings innovations.

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 operations.

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 trafficable surface on the Base plant’s Pond 5.

The coke-capping layer is light enough to float on the surface of the pond and yet strong enough to allow large trucks and other equipment to drive over the pond surface. The access for equipment has allowed us to place vertical drains in the deposit. These drains act like straws to speed the expression of water from the underlying treated fluid tailings. This in turn will result in improved reclamation performance.

The Pond 5 coke capping project is one of the largest field trials of a tailings technology anywhere in the world. The cap is expected to be complete by 2019; in a few years afterwards, we expect the required settlement to have slowed to a rate to deem the area as ready for reclamation and, at that point, further reclamation activities can start.

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