Alberta conditionally approves Suncor plan to reduce fluid tailings

The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) has conditionally approved a plan by Suncor Energy Inc. for improving fluid tailings management submitted under Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes. The ERCB has also approved construction and operation of Suncor’s first-time commercial application in the oil sands of new technology designed to reduce fluid tailings volumes.

Suncor’s Tailings Reduction Operations (TRO) involves converting fluid tailings into a solid landscape suitable for reclamation. The project is located 40 km northwest of Fort McMurray.

The ERCB believes that application of TRO will enable Suncor to reduce the volume of fluid tailings remaining at the end of the project life by 33 million cubic metres (about 30%). Suncor’s plan does not include the creation of any new tailings ponds and will actually allow Suncor to operate five fewer tailings ponds and use less space for fluid tailings storage than originally applied for. TRO will require Suncor to continue utilizing four of its existing tailings ponds. Those tailings ponds are scheduled to be decommissioned in 2017, 2029, 2032, and 2035.

Suncor has already committed approximately $450 million to TRO technology and other measures designed to improve tailings management and meet Directive 074 requirements. Thus far, oil sands operators have committed more than $1 billion in upgrades to comply with the Directive.

After a rigorous review, the ERCB has also imposed two conditions focusing on coke conservation and sand disposal in its approval of the Suncor tailings plan, which are included in the attached backgrounder.

This plan is the third of those submitted by six oil sands operators in September 2009 to the ERCB. Tailings plans submitted by Albian Sands Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Imperial Oil Resources Ventures Limited, and Shell Canada Inc. are currently being reviewed by ERCB staff.

Directive 074 requires operators to prepare tailings plans and report on tailings ponds annually, reduce fluid tailings through fines captured in dedicated disposal areas, and convert fines into trafficable deposits which are ready for reclamation five years after deposits have ceased.

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