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

Oilsands tailing ponds are a nasty challenge that can't be ignored Issues have demonstrably worsened over the past decade

Oped
April 27, 2018 - By Jodi McNeill

Herald columnist Deborah Yedlin criticized the Pembina Institute for daring to point out oilsands tailings have demonstrably worsened over the past decade.

Oilsands tailings weigh heavily on all Canadians Mining firms must be held accountable for toxic waste before it’s too late

Oped
Nov. 8, 2017 - By Jodi McNeill

The Suncor plan’s approval underscores the fact that oilsands tailings remain an enormous environmental problem that is projected to continue escalating in the coming decades.

Tailings ponds: The worst is yet to come Oilsands at 50 Series – The Real Cost of Development, Part 2

Blog
Oct. 10, 2017 - By Jodi McNeill

Since oilsands mining operations started 1967, 1.3 trillion litres of fluid tailings has accumulated in these open ponds on the Northern Alberta landscape (Figure 1). This is enough toxic sludge to fill 400,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Canadians need better protection from oilsands cleanup liabilities Companies must account for the social and environmental costs now

Oped
July 26, 2017 - By Jodi McNeill

Open pit mining operations, where bitumen is found within 75 metres of the surface, are responsible for almost half of current oilsands production and generate severe and potentially intractable environmental impacts that Canadians cannot turn a blind eye to.

Recent publications 

OSEC submission regarding Suncor tailings strategy Letter to Alberta Energy Regulator

Publication
Aug. 4, 2017 - By Jodi McNeill

Tailings management remains a critical public interest issue in Alberta. The AER must ensure its decisions increase accountability, transparency, and improve outcomes consistent with the TMF.

OSEC submission to Suncor enhanced review process Letter to the Alberta Energy Regulator

Publication
June 27, 2017 - By Jodi McNeill

The Alberta Energy Regulator has scheduled an enhanced review of the Suncor Tailings Management Plan for July 17 and 18 in Edmonton.

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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