Report on Sustainability 2018

Reclamation technologies

Innovation in land reclamation

We’re aggressively working to accelerate the pace of progressive reclamation of disturbed land at our mining and in situ locations.

Nikanotee fen

In 2013, Suncor completed construction of a three-hectare fen, named the Nikanotee (pronounced Nee-ga-no-tee; Cree word for “future”) fen. The achievement established Suncor as 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.

Research is showing that 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.

The Nikanotee fen is now a joint industry project, contributed by Suncor to other members of COSIA.

Two Suncor employees walk along a platform through the Nikanotee Fen – one of the first reclaimed fen wetland watersheds in the world – at Suncor Base Plant, near Fort McMurray, Alberta


Built upon the processes currently used in our Tailings Reduction Operations (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 not only achieves our closure plan but in an accelerated timeline.

To validate this closure concept, we have constructed a Demonstration Pit Lake that contains PASS treated fluid tailings that will have an aquatic cover established in 2018. The project is planned to be monitored and adaptively managed for the next 15 years.

Demonstration Pit Lake

The Demonstration Pit Lake (DPL) is part of our aquatic closure technology development program that is designed to ensure we can successfully reclaim mine sites. The DPL project incorporated the PASS fluid tailings treatment process as the first step to accelerating the process to establish a lake capable of supporting a full ecosystem of aquatic life. An aquatic cover will now be established on the treated tailings and operated in the same way that is 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 that were created from former coal mine pits which are now used for recreational fishing, swimming and continue to demonstrate naturally colonized fish and staging areas for migratory birds.

Throughout the DPL project, engagement with Aboriginal communities is a major focus. We are working to collaborate with communities on the research and monitoring program so we can jointly learn from each other. Before construction work began, we invited Elders from a neighbouring community to perform a blessing on the land that will be used to develop the demonstration lake.

An Elder from the community of Fort McKay performed a blessing on the land before construction on the Demonstration Pit Lake started
An Elder from the community of Fort McKay performed a blessing on the land before construction on the Demonstration Pit Lake started.
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