Assessing the technical basis for returning treated water to the Athabasca River.

Members are actively advancing knowledge and technology to allow the safe return of treated mine water to the Athabasca River during active mining.

This will reduce the net use intensity even further while allowing industry to reduce the volume of untreated mine water in tailings ponds over a shorter period of time, further enhancing the reclamation process. Specific projects include:

  1. Salt Management (Teck with all Water EPA members)
    Assesses the environmental effects of leaving salt to accumulate in the mine throughout its lifetime then releasing it into the environment via pit lakes compared with releasing salt to the environment through the controlled return of treated mine water during active mining.
  2. Substance Load Allocation Study (Suncor with all Water EPA members)
    This study assesses the assimilative capacity of the Athabasca River for return of naturally occurring substances like salt in typical mine waters.
  3. Technology and Sector-based Standards (Suncor with all Water EPA members)
    Assesses the water treatment standards in related industries (refining, mining and pulp paper) to help ensure that what is proposed for the return of treated mine water in the oil sands sector is similar to standards set in these other industries. Both this project and the substance load allocation study will help develop ‘end of pipe’ limits based on regional watershed management principles.
  4. NSERC Senior Industrial Research Chair (IRC) Program in Oil Sands Tailings Water Treatment: (Canadian Natural, Shell, Suncor, Syncrude and Total plus other non-COSIA members at the University of Alberta)
    Develops and assesses innovative water treatment technologies and their applicability to oil sands mine water.

The Canadian oil sands sector is subject to a strong regulatory regime and industry expects continued responsible government regulatory oversight, including emerging regulation related to mine water return.