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Fort Hills may see new way to manage tailings

PHOTO. Suncor's Fort Hills is seen as the best oilsands mining asset in the region because of the Paraffinic Froth Treatment (PFT) process it uses to remove heavy hydrocarbon molecules in the extraction process which is much less carbon intensive because it doesn’t require upgrading before further refining and marketing and uses less diluent. Melanie Walsh. REPORTER. Melanie Walsh, REPORTER

The Alberta Energy Regulator has conditionally approved a taiings management plan for the Fort Hills oilsands mine despite its failure to meet milestones and reliance on an unproven reclamation method.

Tailngs ponds store water used in the oilsands mining process that is notoriously difficult to reclaim because it has been contaminated with fine clay particles, oil and other chemicals.

The mine owned by Suncor Energy Inc. is proposing to chemically treat its tailings, concentrate them all in a single deposit by 2073 (10 years after the end of mine life) and then cover the residue with water to create a large pit lake.

Oilsands mining companies were ordered in 2015 to submit plans to progressively treat and reduce taiings over the life of each project, with all fluid taiings ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end of mine life.

The regulator in its decision says it will require the Fort Hills mine to submit by Sept. 30, 2021, a plan for a project to demonstrate how its passive aquatic storage system will work.

It says it must present a research plan for its water-capping technology by September 2023.