Energy Resources Conservation Board Directive 074:
Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining
Schemes was released on February 3, 2009, setting out industry-wide
performance criteria for the reduction of fluid fine tailings and
the formation of trafficable deposits for all oil sands operators.
Failure to comply with these new requirements could lead to
enforcement actions from the Energy Resources Conservation
Tailings are a waste by-product of oil sands extraction
processes which are generally composed of water, sand, silt, clay
and residual bitumen. Tailings are sent to tailings ponds where
solids settle and water is recycled. Coarse solids settle rapidly,
but fluid fine tailings can remain in suspension for several years,
if not indefinitely. According to the Energy Resources Conservation
Board (ERCB), Alberta's inventory of fluid fine tailings
requiring long term containment is now 720 million cubic meters.
Although some test pits have been reclaimed, to date no tailings
pond has been reclaimed in the Alberta oil sands.
The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (predecessor to the ERCB)
and various joint review panels have expressed increasing concern
for the overall tailings performance of the oil sands industry in
their decisions. The concern with tailings management was elevated
when approximately 500 ducks died after landing on a large Syncrude
tailings pond in April 2008.
The ERCB responded to this issue by issuing a draft directive on
"Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands
Mining Schemes" on June 26, 2008. After giving industry and
interested parties the opportunity for input, the final directive
was released on February 3, 2009 as Directive 074. The directive is
the first component of a larger initiative for the ERCB to regulate
Directive 074 applies to all existing, approved, and future oil
sands operators. Operators must make submissions to the ERCB on how
they will meet the new requirements. Requirements will be phased-in
and adapted as approved by the ERCB, taking into account the
particular circumstances of a project. Operators are also required
to assess and compare their actual tailings performance against
their approved tailings plans. Any significant changes to tailings
management must be reported to the ERCB and may require an
application for an amendment to the approval. Directive 074
requires operators to:
Reduce fluid fine tailings by capturing a minimum amount of
fines in Dedicated Disposal Areas (DDA). Fines are mineral solids
with particle sizes equal to or less than 44 micrometres. The
amount of fines going into liquid tailings must be reduced by 20%
in 2011, by 30% in 2012, and by 50% in 2013.
Form and manage DDAs to ensure the formation of trafficable
deposits that are ready for reclamation five years after active
deposition has ceased.
Submit to the ERCB annual compliance reports for DDAs, annual
tailing plans and pond status reports starting September 30, 2011.
DDA plans must also be submitted two years prior to construction.
Baseline surveys for DDAs and each fluid tailings pond must be
reported by September 30, 2010.
Significance to Industry
To date, many oil sands operators have not met the fluid tailing
targets set out in their applications. That will likely mean an
additional cost to ensure compliance. The monitoring and reporting
requirements under Directive 074 will also mean greater regulatory
scrutiny over tailings management now and into the future.
Directive 074 will also allow the ERCB to take enforcement action
against companies that fail to meet industry-wide tailings
management criteria. Enforcement actions range from non-compliance
fees to increased inspections and suspension or cancellation of
approvals. It is noteworthy that Directive 074 is
performance-based, and gives companies the flexibility to choose
the technology they prefer to achieve the performance criteria.
Shawn Denstedt is a partner in the firm's
Calgary office. Jessica Ng is an associate in the
firm's Calgary office.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
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