MRO Magazine


Seven oil sands companies set new direction for tailings research

Canadian Natural Resources, Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Suncor Energy, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Teck Resources and Total E&P Canada plan to work together in a unified effort to advance tailings management.

This announcement reflects the companies’ commitments to socially and environmentally responsible operations and responds to Alberta government policy to effect the timely reclamation of tailings. Their press releases says this will foster innovation and collaboration in research and development relating to tailings.

“The issue is not whether we can manage tailings — the issue is whether we can do it better,” said John Broadhurst, vice-president of Shell’s Oil Sands Development. “We believe that this relationship is a key step towards tailings solutions that will allow us to accelerate the pace of reclamation using the most advanced environmental measures.”

Each company has pledged to share its existing tailings research and technology and to remove barriers to collaborating on future tailings R&D. Bringing all of the companies’ scientific expertise together creates a strong foundation of resources that will lead to improvements in tailings management. This milestone is supported by the Canada Mining Innovation Council, an organization focused on the promotion and implementation of mining-related research to meet the needs of Canada’s mining and minerals industries.

The companies have agreed to the following core principles to guide the actions of the research collaboration:
Make tailings technical information more broadly available to the industry members, academia, regulators and others interested in collaborating on tailings solutions;
Collaborate on tailings-related research and development and technology among companies as well as with research agencies;
Eliminate monetary and intellectual property barriers to the use of knowledge and methods related to tailings technology and research and development; and
Work to develop an appropriate framework so that tailings information is organized, verified through peer review and kept current.  

“This is a tremendously positive step for research into improved technology for managing tailings.  These companies are to be congratulated for their foresight and willingness to work together in this way,” said David Lynch, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta.

Existing tailings research and development will form the base of knowledge for the  collaboration.  Research objectives will be finalized in 2011.