Alberta’s energy watchdog has approved plans submitted by two major oilsands players to deal with waste from their projects, but the thumbs-up comes with several conditions.
The decisions on the Syncrude Canada Ltd. and the Fort Hills Oil Sands Project proposals were the first to be made since the watchdog ordered oilsands miners to clean up their tailings ponds last year.
The Energy Resources Conservation Board has slapped six conditions on each of Syncrude’s Mildred Lake and Aurora North sites, many of which concern the oilsands giant’s plans to separate fine particles of sand and clay from wastewater.
Syncrude’s plans originally submitted last September "did not fully meet ERCB requirements," the regulator said in a statement.
"Subsequent consultations between Syncrude and the ERCB have seen significant improvements to the company’s plans."
Syncrude spokeswoman Cheryl Robb said the consortium was proud of its proposal, which includes using various technologies to encourage tiny bits of clay to sink to the bottom of the water.
"In our estimation it was an aggressive plan that we submitted and the ERCB is holding us to that plan," Robb said. "Some of the requirements they put on are making sure that we hold to that plan."
Syncrude is the world’s largest oilsands operation with Canadian Oil Sands Trust holding the biggest stake. Other partners include Imperial Oil Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc., Nexen Inc., Mocal Energy Ltd. and Murphy Oil Co. Ltd.. China’s state-owned Sinopec recently agreed to buy ConocoPhillips’ nine per cent interest.
The ERCB also has also imposed two caveats on Fort Hills, a proposed oilsands mine 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alta., that has yet to be sanctioned by project operator Suncor. Teck Resources Ltd. and UTS Energy Corp. are the other two partners in Fort Hills.
Fort Hills must apply for pilot testing of new tailings pond technologies six months before its project starts up. It must also have no fluid deposits containing clay at the end of the mine’s life.
Tailings are the byproduct of the oilsands extraction process and contain water, sand, silt, clay and residual bitumen.
The ERCB estimates tailings ponds today contain about 840 million cubic metres of fluid and cover about 170 square kilometres across northern Alberta.
Such ponds gained notoriety in 2008 when 1,600 birds died after landing on one of Syncrude’s ponds.
Last year, the ERCB ordered oilsands companies to reduce their tailings by capturing the fine particles of clay and putting them in a deposit that is solid enough to walk on. Currently, the more course sand particles are used to fill depleted mines back in before they can be reclaimed.
Source: The Chronicle Herald