Development of Soft Tailings Capping Technology to Create Stable and Sustainable Boreal Landscapes

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Dani Degenhardt , Jessica Hudson, Christine Martineau , Kerry Peru, John Headley

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The production of synthetic crude oil generates large volumes of fluid tailings comprised of process water, sand, silt and clay along with residual bitumen, diluent and other chemical constituents remaining from the extraction process. Given the nature and scale of tailings generated by oil sands mine operations, returning soft tailings deposits back to an ecosystem of equivalent  land capability is a complex challenge faced by all operators in the Athabasca oil sands region. This meso-scale greenhouse study uses 55 gallon columns to evaluate the growth and establishment of various boreal plants on treated fluid tailings under various capping treatments over 3 years; results from the first growing season will be discussed along with the baseline characterization of the tailings and materials used. Capping depth treatments were applied to centrifuge, co-mix and thickened tailings followed by planting boreal upland and wetland communities. After one growing season, survival was high for most species among tailings types. The vegetative cover of forbs and graminoid species, height incremental growth of woody species and root development were greater in treatments with 30 cm of peat-mineral mix reclamation cap. Of the species planted, Scirpus microcarpus and Triglochin maritima were least impacted by tailings compared to Betula pumila. The constituents that may impact plant growth include Na, B and naphthenic acids, monitoring the change of those constituents in tailings, expressed water and plant tissue will be highlighted in this presentation.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program