Alberta Government continues its mismanagement of fluid tailings with approval of CNRL's tailings planPembina Institute reacts to Alberta Energy Regulator's decision

Dec. 19, 2017

EDMONTON — Jodi McNeill, analyst at the Pembina Institute, made the following statement in response to the Alberta Energy Regulator’s decision:

“Tailings have been mismanaged in Alberta for half a century, and the provincial government has now clearly demonstrated its lack of commitment to rectify this problem anytime soon. Similar to Suncor's approved tailings plan in October, CNRL’s plan does not comply with the rules stipulated by AER Directive 085.

“The directive explicitly requires proponents to provide an alternative to water capping. Yet CNRL’s plan was approved without this critical component. Water capping is a risky and unproven technology, and the government has set a precedent for allowing proponents to rely on it with no viable contingency plans. Moreover, CNRL’s plan does not meet the directive's target of achieving five years or less of fluid tailings accumulation by the end of mine life.

“If this ominous trend continues with the approval of the rest of the plans currently being reviewed, Albertans can expect to see fluid tailings ponds continue to grow until 2037. Current volumes represent a substantial amount of the industry's estimated $27 billion in liabilities, of which only $1 billion is currently held in securities by the province.”

Quick facts

  • Fluid tailings are a thick, molasses-like substance that will take centuries to settle into its respective components if left alone. As a result, they need treatment to create clear water and a solid substance that can be reclaimed.
  • Oilsands tailings have been growing since mining began in 1967.
  • A new policy direction called the Tailings Management Framework was introduced in 2015 to tackle the ever-worsening tailings problem. Under this framework, new regulations came out in August 2016 (Directive 085).
  • All operators submitted tailings management plans for the new regulations in late 2016. Based on the sum of all the plans, tailings volumes will reach 1.5 trillion litres.
  • Tailings are not projected to begin to decline until 2037.





Suzy Thompson

Communications Lead, Alberta, Pembina Institute

Jodi McNeill

Analyst, Pembina Institute


Pembina Institute Tailings Ponds web page


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