All six Alberta oil sands tailings pond operators have submitted their plans to the Energy Resources Conservation Board, meeting a Sept. 30 deadline.
In an Oct. 1 press release ERCB said the deadline complies with Directive 074, which deals with tailings performance criteria and requirements for oil sands mining projects, requiring operators to prepare tailings plans and report on tailings ponds annually, reduce fine particles in liquid tailings by 20 percent by June 30, 2011, and by 50 percent by 2013.
Must be ready in 5 yearsThe land must be ready for reclamation five years after tailings are no longer being deposited in the ponds. Reclamation includes covering the sites with soil and planting trees, bushes and native grasses.
“Tailings” is a term used to describe waste from oil sands extraction processes. This waste, said ERCB, is “generally composed of water, sands, silt, clay and residual bitumen.”
The six oil sands operators that filed the tailings pond plans were Canadian Natural Resources for its Horizons Oil Sands project; Imperial Oil Resources Ventures for its Kearl Oil Sands Project; Shell Canada for its Jackpine Mine and the Muskeg River Mine, which is actually run by Albian Sands Energy for a Shell joint venture; Fort Hills Energy for its Fort Hills Oil Sands Project; Syncrude for Mildred Lake, Aurora North and Aurora South; and Suncor Energy for its Millennium and Lease 86/17 tailings areas.
Suncor currently operates two extraction plants — Lease 86/17 Primary Extraction Plant, or Plant 3, and the Millennium Extraction Plant, or Plant 86.
Suncor’s Steepbank Extraction Plant, or Plant 300, is in the process of being commissioned. The company expects it to be fully operational by the end of the year.
Suncor applied in June for an extension to keep Plant 3 operational until Plant 300 was up and running to facilitate the reclamation of the Lease 86/17 tailings ponds.
Imperial’s Kearl Lake project is under construction, and Shell is planning an expansion of the Albian Muskeg River and Jackpine mine operations.
Technical review under wayERCB said its staff is conducting a “detailed and comprehensive technical review” of the tailings pond applications before it decides whether the plans comply with government requirements.
Alberta’s inventory of fluid fine tailings that require long-term containment is now 720 million cubic meters, the agency said.
Environmental groups are keeping a close eye on ERCB’s review, arguing that oil sands development is creating an environmental catastrophe.
Recent attempts by Shell Canada to engage Greenpeace protestors in Canada in discussions have reportedly been ignored.
The submissions from the six operators have been scanned into digital format, and are posted on ERCB’s Web site at www.ercb.ca.