Our dams have gained national attention for all the right reasons. The Canadian Dam Association (CDA) recognized Suncor as the 2021 corporate award for excellence in dam management.  

Dams are crucial structures in our mines as they safely store mine tailings and recycled water required for operations. Our first dam was built in 1966 in preparation for operations at Base Plant – at the time it was known as Tar Island Dyke.

“Dam safety work began at the same time and we worked closely with the Alberta government and provincial regulators during the early development of dam safety regulations,” says Norman Eenkooren, Senior Specialist Geotechnical and Dam Safety in Regional Geo-Services and Mine Planning.

Norman Eenkooren, Senior Specialist Geotechnical and Dam Safety in Regional Geo-Services and Mine Planning
Norman Eenkooren, Senior Specialist Geotechnical and Dam Safety in Regional Geo-Services and Mine Planning.

Our dam safety program protects the integrity of tailings structures through extensive checks and balances for design, construction, and operations, and with a series of internal and external reviews and formal audits. This includes the Mine Development Reclamation Review Board (MDRRB) chaired by Dr. Norbert Morgenstern. 

“Our goal is to design, build and operate robust dams with safety features that mitigate the risk of potential failure,” says Norm. “Managing this responsibly and safely is not only what stakeholders expect of us, but what we expect of ourselves.” 

Responsible management of our tailings facilities is also a key component of the Mining Association of Canada’s (MAC) Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative. As a member, Suncor follows industry best practices in safe tailings dam operations. Internal assessments are required annually, with an independent, external verification every three years. 

The award from the Canadian Dam Association is an important acknowledgement according to Pooya Mohseni, General Manager, Regional Geo-Services and Mine Planning. “It’s a recognition that we are a leader in mining dam safety in Canada. Our journey has been one of continual improvement, which could not have taken place without the efforts, dedication and effective collaboration of folks past and present; the support of leadership; and technical leadership from Dr. Norbert Morgenstern and the MDRRB.”

Dams in the mining industry are quite different than water dams for irrigation and hydro, because mining dams have their own complexities.

“Dams are critical to our core business,” adds Pooya. “This award shows a team effort across the business from our contractor partners and frontline operations staff in safety, planning, engineering, and maintenance. It exemplifies a one-team approach.”   

This award provides icing on the cake of a rewarding career for Norm, our resident go-to “dam guy”, who’s spent more than 30 years supporting dam safety in many capacities including 20 years with Suncor and serving on the CDA Mining Dams Committee, the MAC Tailings Working Group and the Alberta Chamber of Resource’s Dam Integrity Advisory Committee. 

“I like big construction projects and heavy civil engineering work,” adds Norm. “Working in the dam safety space allows me to follow my passion while contributing to such an important discipline for our organization.”