Regulator OKs Fort Hills oilsands mine tailings plan but orders lake demonstration

Dignitaries cut the ribbon to officially open the Fort Hills oilsands mine in September 2018. Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

CALGARY — The Alberta Energy Regulator has conditionally approved a tailings management plan for the new Fort Hills oilsands mine.

Tailings 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 end-pit lake.

Oilsands mining companies were ordered in 2015 to submit plans to progressively treat and reduce tailings over the life of each project, with all fluid tailings 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.

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