Tailings EPA: Research & Development in Tailings Management

Research & Development in Tailings Management

Problem solving is critical to COSIA’s work in the oil sands. Organizations like Coanda—a western Canadian research and development corporation—work closely with members of COSIA’s Tailings Environmental Priority Area (EPA) to find solutions to tailings environmental challenges.

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Tailings Director Update

John Brogly

John Brogly
Director, Tailings EPA

In July, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) released its new rules for oil sands tailings management. Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects is a regulation under the Tailings Management Framework (released in early 2015) that establishes requirements operators must meet for fluid tailings volumes for both existing fluid tailings and new fluid tailings growth.

“Companies in the Tailings EPA are already researching a number of technologies to treat fluid fine tailings,” says John Brogly, COSIA’s Tailings Environmental Priority Area (EPA) director. “The new directive allows for each operator to justify their tailings management plan and work with the AER to set ready-to-reclaim criteria appropriate for their site.”

The previous directive required specific tonnes of tailings fines treated to a solid material within one year, which is something that was very difficult to achieve within the set timeframes without causing other environmental impacts. The Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) new requirement is broader, tracking the overall amount of fluid tailings and aiming for progressive treatment and reclamation over the life of a mine. It also sets out additional monitoring and reporting requirements.

“The new directive is stringent and rigorous,” explains John. “However, it recognizes that tailings management is not a case of one-size-fits-all, and that management practices are based on the specific constraints of each oil sands lease area, which are all different.”

As part of the next step in developing the directive, current tailings operators had until November 1 to submit their tailings management plans. The AER will review the applications and seek stakeholder feedback, before approving the site specific plans.

“While the new rules will require a new focus by the operators in the Tailings EPA, this is in line with how they are always looking for ways to make tailings operations more environmentally sound and cost effective,” confirms John. “And it also allows for the multiple treatment approaches and considers research that is already underway.”

While allowing more flexibility for how an operator treats and, ultimately, reduces its tailings, Directive 085 also looks at the net environmental impact of how fluid tailings are managed. In other words, it looks at how treatment practices impact air quality, land, water and the ecosystem as a whole.

Read more about the work underway by the Tailings EPA.