Potential for aggregate producers?
By Andy Bateman
Oct. 23, 2009 – Suncor Energy Inc.
reports today that it has submitted a regulatory application for changes to the
company's oil sands mining and extraction operations that target significant
improvement in the speed of reclamation of oil sands tailings at the company's
existing oil sands operations near Fort McMurray.
The proposed process changes and implementation of
new technology, called Tailings Reduction Operations (TRO) are subject to
approval by the Energy Resources Conservation Board, Alberta Environment and
Suncor's Board of Directors.
"TRO is a significant advance in tailings
management and reclamation," says Kirk Bailey, executive vice president,
Oil Sands. "We believe it will help us meet new provincial regulatory
requirements and, just as importantly, the changing expectations of
Tailings are a mixture of fine clay, sand, water
and residual bitumen produced through the oil sands extraction process. As
tailings settle, a portion will eventually form into mature fine tailings (MFT), a substance that historically has
taken many decades to firm up sufficiently for planting and surface
reclamation. Consolidated tailings (CT) technology, pioneered by Suncor in the
1990s, is the current method of speeding this settling process. The CT process
adds coarse sand and gypsum to accelerate the release of water.
"Consolidated Tailings has proven effective,
but in this industry, the focus is always on developing new technology and
better processes," says Bailey.
The implementation of TRO involves converting fluid
fine tailings more rapidly into a solid landscape suitable for reclamation. In
this process, MFT is mixed with a polymer flocculent, then deposited in thin
layers over sand beaches with shallow slopes. The resulting product is a dry
material that is capable of being reclaimed in place or moved to another
location for final reclamation. This drying process occurs over a matter of
weeks, allowing more rapid reclamation activities to occur. The new
process is expected to improve management of tailings going forward, and can
also be used to reduce existing tailings inventory at Suncor's operations.
Suncor has been working closely with key
stakeholders to ensure they understand the proposed new process and technology
and the company understands any concerns they may have. This stakeholder
engagement will continue through the regulatory review process. Pending
approvals, Suncor plans to begin rapidly accelerating the implementation TRO in
"In 2010, Suncor plans to officially complete
the reclamation of our first tailings pond to a solid surface," said
Bailey. "It's fitting that in the same year we reach an important
reclamation milestone, we expect to implement improved technology to increase
the pace of reclamation. It's all about continuous improvement in our environmental,
social and economic performance."