Canada's oil sands industry is working to improve the management of tailings ponds, both in the monitoring of active tailings ponds and in developing technologies to move them into reclamation sooner.
A tailings pond is an engineered dam and dyke system used as a settling basin/storage container for the mixture of water, sand, clay and residual oil that is left over after oil sands processing. Tailings ponds are settling basins that enable process water to be separated and continuously recycled. Oil sands producers recycle 80-95 per cent of water used, reducing use of fresh water from the Athabsca River and other sources.
Tailings ponds can remain part of an active mine operation for 30-40 years, either for tailings deposits or for storage and water recycling. The first tailings pond, Suncor’s Pond One (Wapisiw Lookout), completed surface reclamation in 2010. Strict regulations and a comprehensive monitoring program are in place to mitigate potential impacts.
Areas of Focus
A key component of reducing and managing tailings is better management and use of water on site. Industry aims to minimize the use of high-quality fresh water and to reduce the volume of water stored in tailings ponds.
New and innovative opportunities for water re-use and regional sharing of existing water allocations among key players in the oil sands area are being developed.
Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is an alliance of oil sands producers focused on accelerating the pace of improvement in environmental performance in Canada's oil sands through collaborative action and innovation.
Examples of current projects include:
- Accelerated Dewatering
- Cross Flow Filtration
- Filter Press Project
- Tailings Centrifuge
- Tailings Reduction Technology
- Carbon Dioxide Amended Tailings
- Tailings Centrifugation
- Laminar Flow Research
- Dynamic Flocculation