Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Suncor Energy seeks regulator's OK for new way to deal with tailings"

Suncor Energy seeks regulator's OK for new way to deal with oilsands waste
Oct. 23, 2009

CALGARY — Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU) says it has a promising a new technology that will turn tailing ponds near its oilsands operations in Northern Alberta into a solid landscape in a matter of weeks, thereby speeding the reclamation process significantly.

Tailings ponds pollution has been a hot issue for years because of the impact on the environment, but it became more prominent in the public mind in 2008 when 1,600 ducks died in a toxic oilsands sludge at the Syncrude Canada oilsands tailings pond in northern Alberta.

Syncrude is the world's biggest oilsands operation and is a venture of several companies, including Canadian Oil Sands Trust (TSX:COS.UN), Imperial Oil Ltd. (TSX:IMO) and Suncor, which acquired its stake through the recent purchase of Petro-Canada Inc.

Oilsands tailings are a mixture of water, fine clay, sand and residual bitumen - the sticky substance that is extracted and processed to make crude oil.

Earlier this year, Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board directed companies to eliminate dozens of lake-sized tailings ponds over several decades and set a Sept. 30 deadline to file plans with the regulator.

Suncor said Friday its applying for regulatory approval for its new TRO technology, which would speed up the process of converting fluid tailings into a solid landscape or dry material that can be moved elsewhere.

Canada's largest oil and gas company said it has been working closely with key stakeholders on its new process, called Tailings Reduction Operations, and it has applied for approvals by the conservation board and the Alberta Environment department.

"TRO is a significant advance in tailings management and reclamation," Suncor executive vice-president Kirk Bailey said in a statement.

"We believe it will help us meet new provincial regulatory requirements and, just as importantly, the changing expectations of stakeholders."

It remains to be seen whether the new process will receive the acceptance that Suncor is seeking from regulators and the broader public.

Suncor says its new process is quicker than the method it pioneered in the 1990s to speed up the settling process in tailings ponds.

The older approach adds coarse sand and gypsum, a powdery mineral, to accelerate the release of water.

The new method mixes fine tailings sand with a polymer flocculent, then deposited in thin layers over sand beaches with shallow slopes.

Pending approvals, Suncor plans to begin rapidly accelerating the implementation TRO in 2010, the company said.

Alberta has dozens of lake-sized tailings ponds that have been created over several decades.

Suncor is expected to reclaim the first tailing pond in more than 40 years sometime in 2010.

Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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