News Release 2010-06-17 (NR2010-08)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ERCB CONDITIONALLY APPROVES SUNCOR PLAN TO REDUCE FLUID TAILINGS
Calgary, Alberta (June 17, 2010) 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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This news release is available on the ERCB website at www.ercb.ca.
For more information, contact:
Darin Barter, ERCB Communications
Cell : 403-681-0946
Conditions on Suncor Approval
- The Operator shall submit for Board approval a coke conservation plan one year prior to placing coke in-pit in the North Steepbank Mine Extension.
- The Operator shall submit detailed designs for Sand Dumps 8, 9 and 10 at least six months prior to containment of any water or deposition of tailings sand.
Suncor is compliant with the annual fines capture requirement of Directive 074 from 2010 through 2018. Suncor has notified the ERCB that the company may not be able to fully achieve a 50% fines capture in 2019 and 2020 due to the relocation of Dedicated Disposal Areas (areas which contain fine particles captured from the tailings process and stored for drying and reclamation) required by its mine plan. In 2020-2021, Suncor will once again meet the required fines capture. The ERCB will continue to work with Suncor through its annual tailings plan submissions to review actual performance and determine if the company can further improve fines capture in 2019 and 2020.
Status of Other Directive 074 Reviews
ERCB staff are reviewing tailings plans submitted by Albian Sands Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Imperial Oil Resources Ventures Limited, and Shell Canada Inc. and using Supplemental Information Requests (SIRs) to ask the companies for more information or changes to the plans to ensure they are in compliance with ERCB regulations.
The ERCB is working collaboratively with the companies to clarify its understanding of the proposals, to correct deficiencies and to ensure appropriate information is included within their plan. The ERCB recognizes that companies are working to meet the requirements of Directive 074 with their tailings plans, which involve a significant application of new and emerging technologies on a commercial scale. The ERCB is working to be flexible regarding each project's specific geological and technical requirements while ensuring the requirements of Directive 074 are met.
Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes
- Directive 074 requires operators to:
- Prepare tailings plans and report on tailings ponds annually,
- Reduce the accumulation of tailings by capturing fine particles, that would otherwise remain suspended in tailings ponds,and placing them in a deposit that can be walked on and,
- Specify dates for construction, use and closure of tailings ponds and file these dates with the ERCB by September 30, 2009.
- The submission of the tailings plan is an annual requirement of Directive 074, which will allow the ERCB to continuously monitor tailings operations and provide a means to take enforcement action when necessary. Compliance with the two main Directive 074 criteria (fines capture and DDA strength) are to be measured by companies annually starting in 2011. Additional reporting is required on the fluid tailings content of each pond annually and is scheduled to be submitted along with the annual tailings plan to the ERCB by September 30 of each year.
- All of the plans are available on the ERCB website at www.ercb.ca
- “Tailings” is a term used to describe waste from oil sands extraction processes. This waste is generally composed of water, sands, silt, clay and residual bitumen.
- Tailings are discharged into large tailings ponds. The larger sand particles in the tailings settle to form a stable deposit very quickly, while the finer clay particles take years to settle and are known as fluid fine tailings. Research on ways to treat fluid fine tailings continues, with the goal of developing technology that will help the fine clays settle quicker or eliminate the need for storage ponds altogether.
- In past applications, mineable oils sands operators proposed the conversion of fluid tailings into deposits that could be walked on and ready for reclamation. While operators have applied technologies to try and make this happen, they have not met the targets set out in their applications.
- Alberta 's inventory of fluid fine tailings that require long term containment is now 840 million cubic metres. The ERCB estimates tailings ponds today are approximately 170 sq km.