Tailings Ponds

oilsands tailings

Fluid tailings — known formally as mature fine tailings — are the toxic by-product of oilsands mining. The slurry sieved from the mining process is deposited as waste in enormous holding lakes, and they contain a host of toxic materials including bitumen, naphthenic acids, cyanide, phenols, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead and zinc. They are released during oilsands processing and build up in tailings lakes over time — and there is evidence these lakes may leak.

The total volume of fluid tailings, a toxic byproduct of Alberta oilsands mining, reached 1.18 trillion litres in 2015. This is the result of 50 years of regulatory and engineering shortcomings. On November 1, 2016, Tailings Management Plans for all operating mines were submitted to the Alberta Energy Regulator. The Pembina Institute has compiled data from these plans and conducted a preliminary analysis, identifying seven areas of concern.

Recent blogs

Will Alberta’s oilsands tailings finally be cleaned up?

Blog
Feb. 8, 2017 - By Jodi McNeill

This year is poised to be a decisive one for the future of tailings ponds in the Alberta oilsands. The Alberta Energy Regulator will grant conditions to manage and clean up the toxic mining waste currently sitting in ponds that span over 220km2 of the Northern Alberta landscape.

Three strikes and you’re out? Fifty years of tailings mismanagement in Alberta: How did we get here, and where are we headed?

Blog
Dec. 19, 2016 - By Jodi McNeill

The accumulation of nearly 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) litres of fluid oilsands tailings in Northern Alberta – enough sludge to fill 400,000 olympic swimming pools – is the result of five decades of negligence and engineering failures.

Oilsands tailings back in the spotlight

Blog
Dec. 5, 2016 - By Jodi McNeill

In 2015 there were 1.18 trillion litres of tailings on Alberta’s landscape, covering an area roughly the size of the city of Kelowna. The volume of the lakes continues to grow.

Recent publications 

Statements of concern on tailings ponds solutions Questions for industry's tailings management proposals

Publication
March 22, 2017 - By Jodi McNeill, Nina Lothian

Tailings ponds operators submitted management plans on November 1.  OSEC, a coalition of environmental organizations filed statements of concern for each plan. 

Tailings Management Plans A review of Directive 085

Publication
March 22, 2017 - By Jodi McNeill, Nina Lothian

The total volume of fluid tailings ponds, a toxic byproduct of Alberta oilsands mining, reached 1.18 trillion litres in 2015. This is the result of 50 years of regulatory and engineering shortcomings.

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