Innovation in land reclamation
Now more than six years after completing the three- Nikanotee (pronounced Nee-ga-no-tee; Cree word for “future”) fen, the ongoing research and monitoring are showing that the fen continues to progress. The fen (a form of wetland area that is a highly productive and diverse ecosystem) is remaining wet through the seasonal weather cycles, water quality is good and plants are growing and spreading naturally.
Suncor was one of the first companies in the world to complete reconstruction of this type of wetland. This work was completed in co-operation with a number of university researchers and consultants from across the continent.
Located at our Oil Sands base plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, our three-hectare fen is fed by a man-made 32-hectare watershed. The project is the culmination of more than 10 years of collaborative research.
The University of Waterloo led the fen hydrological feasibility modelling, in partnership with the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA). Suncor funded the design and construction of the fen. Along with Teck Resources and Imperial, we are funding ongoing research and monitoring of the constructed site.
The Nikanotee fen is now a joint industry project, contributed by Suncor to other members of COSIA.
Built upon the processes currently used in our TRO™, Suncor has developed permanent aquatic storage structure (PASS), a fluid tailings treatment process to significantly increase the amount of fluid tailings we can treat in a more sustainable manner.
PASS combines the TRO™ process with the addition of a coagulant to improve the quality of the water expressed from the treated fluid tailings. The treatment process allows us to rapidly dewater the fluid tailings as the clay particles adhere to the flocculant, safely expressing most of the trapped water and providing an effective means for creating a lake that achieves our closure plan, and do so in an accelerated timeline.
To validate this closure concept, we have constructed a demonstration pit lake, now called Lake Miwasin, that contains PASS-treated fluid tailings and has an aquatic cover established in 2018. The project is planned to be monitored and adaptively managed for the next 15 years.
Now known as Lake Miwasin, Suncor’s demonstration pit lake (DPL) is part of our aquatic closure technology development program designed to ensure we can successfully reclaim mine sites. The DPL project incorporated the PASS fluid tailings treatment process to accelerate the process to establish a lake capable of supporting a full ecosystem of aquatic life. An aquatic cover has been established on the treated tailings and operated in the same way we have planned for the full-scale closure drainage system.
Pit lakes are a necessary part of successful closure and reclamation plans and are considered a best practice in mining industries around the world. There are a number of pit lakes in Alberta created from former coal mine pits and are now used for recreational fishing, and swimming. They continue to demonstrate naturally colonized fish and staging areas for migratory birds.
Throughout the Lake Miwasin project, engagement with Indigenous communities is a major focus for us. We are working to collaborate with communities on the research and monitoring program so we can learn from each other. Before construction work began, we invited Elders from a neighbouring community to perform a blessing on the land of the demonstration lake.
In August 2018, Indigenous Elders and Suncor’s Indigenous co-op and summer students participated in planting vegetation around the lakeshore. The planting list included culturally-significant wetland plants, such as ratroot, sweetgrass and sweet gale, Indigenous elders and knowledge holders recommended these plants through the Suncor-sponsored Culturally Significant Wetland Plants Study.
In May 2019, members of the First Nations and Métis community member were invited for the Lake Miwasin/Constructed Wetland Treatment System workshop. The workshop provided an opportunity for additional community input on the proposed research and monitoring projects for the community-led monitoring (CLM) program for the Lake Miwasin project.