Oilsands companies set new direction for tailings research


Late last year, Canadian Natural Resources, Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Suncor Energy, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Teck Resources and Total E&P Canada announced a plan to work together in a unified effort to advance tailings management, an announcement reflecting the companies’ commitments to socially and environmentally responsible operations and responds to Alberta government policy to effect the timely reclamation of tailings.

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 in a statement released in December. “We believe that this relationship is a key step toward 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.

Better Solutions, Faster

Four months into the consortium, we asked Broadhurst for a progress report.

“In December, we notified the broadest group of shareholders what our intentions were for this collaboration; a different way of thinking, a different way of behaving in terms of how we manage the tailings challenge within the industry,” he says. “Since that time what we have done is continued to work together in mapping out the processes that we are going to use.”

Presently, the consortium is returning from a “tailing retreat”, where the participating companies are came together to share free sharing of the tailing information.” This is a “key starting point,” according to Broadhurst, and will drive discussion in terms of people needing to start to share and transmit specific information to advance plans.

Broadhurst also elaborates on a the formation of a protocol for engagement with individuals and third-party suppliers who also want to join the efforts to progress tailings technology; this protocol will make that process easier and is in the implementation stage.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is unique partnership in the sense that it is built around a principle of inclusiveness, anyone who wants to participate, can,” says Broadhurst.

“The important thing to recognize with tailings is there is technological development component which is really where we are trying to get our tailing consortium to work more effectively together so that we can get better solutions, faster.”