Suncor recognizes the importance of addressing the tailings challenge associated with the development of oil sands mines. Oil sands mines produce tailings — left over material produced during the extraction process that separates bitumen from the oil sand. We have developed a new tailings management approach called the TROTM process that's expected to significantly improve the speed of tailings reclamation. We believe our TROTM technology will help us meet provincial regulatory requirements and, just as importantly, the changing expectations of our stakeholders.
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Tailings ponds, an Ongoing Challenge
Oil sands mines produce tailings that are a mixture of water, clay, sand and residual bitumen produced during the extraction process. When tailings are released to a pond, the heaviest material — mostly sand — settles to the bottom, while water rises to the top. The middle layer, the mature fine tailings (MFT), is made up of fine clay particles suspended in water. Some of these particles settle, but much remains suspended. The challenge is that MFT does not settle within a reasonable timeframe. As a result, Suncor has needed more and larger oil sands tailings ponds over the years.
In the 1990s, we pioneered consolidated tailings technology to help speed up the consolidation of MFT into a soil-like deposit that can be re-vegetated and reclaimed. Since then we have developed a new technique called the TROTM process, which promises significant improvements.
A New Approach to Tailings Management
The implementation of the TROTM process involves converting fluid fine tailings more rapidly into a solid landscape suitable for reclamation. In this process, MFT is mixed with a polymer flocculent, then deposited in thin layers over sand beaches with shallow slopes. The resulting product is a dry material that is capable of being reclaimed in place or moved to another location for final reclamation. This drying process occurs over a matter of weeks, allowing for more rapid reclamation activities to occur.
The new process is expected to improve tailings management going forward, and can also be used to reduce existing tailings inventory at Suncor's operations. The company has been researching, developing and testing the TROTM technology since 2003.
Watch a video to see how our TROTM process works
Regulatory Approval Received for Tailings Management Plan
In June 2010, Suncor received approval for its tailings management plan from the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB). The plan proposed the expansion of our new TROTM tailings management approach.
View our press release
View the ERCB press release
TROTM Process Implementation Under Way
Suncor plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next couple of years to implement the technology across our operations. The implementation of TROTM technology towards full commercial scale operations is well under way.
More than 200 employees and contractors worked to ramp up the TROTM process during the summer 2010 peak drying months. Heading into the 2010-2011 winter season (when drying isn't possible), Suncor had:
- Processed approximately 2.9 million tonnes of tailings fines (compared to 188,000 tonnes of tailings fines in 2009);
- Capacity to process 25,000 to 30,000 tonnes of tailings fines per day (compared to a tailing fines processing capacity of 1,500 tonnes per day in 2009);
- Four TROTM process MFT drying sites and five plants (compared to one drying site and one plant in 2009);
- Plans to add MFT drying sites annually for the next three years resulting in increased capacity to process tailings fines.
The first phase of the project to implement the TROTM process is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2012, with the second phase slated for completion by year-end 2012.
With TROTM technology ramp up towards full commercial scale operations well under way, Suncor is working towards fluid tailings reduction performance targets approved by ERCB under
Learn more about Directive 74 at the ERCB website
Plans for Additional Tailings Ponds Cancelled
The TROTM process is changing how Suncor manages tailings at its mine, which processes 180 million tonnes of oil sand annually and ingests about 50,000 tonnes of fine clays per day.
TROTM technology development, regulatory approval and commercial implementation have already enabled Suncor to cancel plans for five additional tailings ponds at its existing mine operations. In the years ahead, Suncor also expects to reduce the number of tailings ponds at its present mine site from eight to just one, shrinking the total land area covered by the ponds by
Suncor, Industry Set New Direction for Tailings Research
Suncor and six other oil sands companies announced plans in December 2010 to work together in a unified effort to advance tailings management. Each company has pledged to share its existing tailings research and technology and to remove barriers to collaborating on future tailings research and development.
Suncor intends to share details specific to its TROTM process. In turn, the companies are committing to future research investments to further accelerate tailings technology advances.
View the tailings research announcement
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