Syncrude’s tailings management practices from research to implementation

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 90, No. 1010, 1997

B.R. List, Syncude Canada Ltd. Fort McMurray, Alberta, and E.R.F. Lord, Syncrude Canada Ltd. Edmonton, Alberta

The Syncrude open pit mine, located near Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta, produces approximately 410 000 tonnes of oil sand feed daily, which, after undergoing a bitumen extraction phase, generates approximately 315 000 tonnes of tailings solids daily. The tailings are used to hydraulically construct containment dykes and supporting beaches of the storage facilities. Tailings deposition commenced in May 1978 with the commissioning of the Mildred Lake Settling Basin which is currently composed of approximately 600M m3 of solids and approximately 300M m3 of contained fluids with fine tailings in suspension for consolidation. Two other storage facilities, commissioned over the past six years, have been developed to store sand and consolidated fine tailings referred to as mature fine tailings. Fine tailings reduction initiatives being developed will be successful in reducing future production of fine tailings volume by 20%. These initiatives include spiking (addition of fine tailings to coarse tailings lines for deposition), composite tailings (addition of gypsum to promote consolidation) and freeze/thaw dewatering, also to promote consolidation. The mandate of research efforts is to enhance tailings disposal and to develop economical and technically feasible reclamation initiatives. Final tailings landscapes will be geotechnically stable and ecologically productive to minimize or eliminate longterm liability. This technical paper will review the design philosophies of the current facilities and provide an overview of the areas of continuous improvement in the field of tailings management practices through the concerted research efforts and their implementation.
Keywords: Environment, Open pit mining, Tailings management.