A study by the Oil Sands Tailings Consortium has created a framework for the development of technologies related to tailings ponds in oil sands extraction in Alberta, Canada.
No single technology or group of technologies will solve the health, safety, and environmental challenges posed by oil sands tailings in a single effort, the report said. Nevertheless, there are a major opportunities to increase the performance and decrease the cost of commercial tailings technologies deployed at oil sands operations. The opportunities are detailed in the report, and include reduction of segregation during bleaching, increased deposit strength and improved trafficability, and reduction of long-term settlement, and reduction of long-term environmental impacts
The study was conducted on behalf of Alberta Innovates—Energy and Environment Solutions, and identifies nine critical subjects related to the deployment of tailings technology. They are:
- Centrifuging of mature fine tailings with conveyors and stackings
- Composite tailings
- In-line thickening with accelerated dewatering
- In-line thickening with thin lift evaporative drying
- Water-capped end pit lake
- Improvement to water-based extraction
- Nonaqueous solvent extraction, retort-based extraction, and parallel high/low fines suite
- In-pit tailings stream
It usually takes 2 to 3 years to bring technology through the research phase. After initial commercial implementation, it often takes 1 to 5 years to bring the technology to a mature state.