Large dykes of the Suncor oil sands mine

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 81, No. 917, 1988

R. LAHAIE*,Suncor Inc., Oil Sands Group Fort Me Murray, Alberta, and W.K. CHAN, Hardy BBT Ltd., Edmonton, Alberta

The Suncor Oil Sands Mine located north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, produces about 80 000 m3 per day of tailings waste which must be disposed of economically in an environmentally acceptable manner. To date, this has been accomplished by impounding the high water content tailings wastes behind large dykes, many of which approach 100 m in height. The dykes are constructed using suitable overburden material stripped prior to the mining of the oil sands feed and/or the coarse sandy fraction of the tailings waste itself. Although the above is common practice at many mining operations, the large volumes handled and the resultant costs require designs to be meticulously fine-tuned toward the optimum. As a result, considerable effort is expended on planning, designing and construction, and performance monitoring. The lack of precedent experience (Suncor pioneered oil sands mining), coupled with the realities of long, harsh winters and a variety of troublesome site conditions and construction materials, has led to some very unique dyke construction. This paper overviews current tailings disposal plans as well as some of the key issues related to the design, construction and performance of these large dykes.
Keywords: Oil sands mining, Dykes, Tailings disposal, Overburden removal, Environmental control.