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Oilsands tailings pond approval terms shortened for former Shell facilities

The Alberta Energy Regulator says it has approved tailings pond management plans for two former Shell Canada oilsands mines in northern Alberta.
The Alberta Energy Regulator says it has approved tailings pond management plans for two former Shell Canada oilsands mines in northern Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The Alberta Energy Regulator says it has approved tailings pond management plans for two former Shell Canada oilsands mines in northern Alberta but has identified “deficiencies” in the plans that must be addressed over the next three or four years.

The regulator says the plans associated with the mines are inadequate in dealing with existing fluid tailings ponds, their proposed reclamation plans are uncertain over the medium and long term and there are concerns about the proposed tailings treatment technology.

It says an amendment must be submitted by September 2021, by the current owner, Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., to address the Muskeg River mine plan’s shortcomings and by September 2022, for issues with the Jackpine mine’s plan.

READ MORE: NAFTA members consider environmental investigation into Canada’s oilsands tailings

It says Canadian Natural is proposing no bitumen production expansion at Jackpine, which means its end-of-life date is extended from 2052 to 2105, but that’s inconsistent with what was previously approved.

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Tailings ponds, which are considered toxic to wildlife, are giant storage lakes used to separate oil, sand and chemicals from water used in oilsands ore transportation and processing.

Last October, the AER approved a tailings management plan for Suncor Energy Ltd.’s Millennium mine after it rejected its first application, although it said it was still concerned about the length of time it will take to remediate the ponds.

READ MORE: Alberta Energy Regulator OKs Suncor’s plan for managing tailings ponds

It added research, monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure efforts go ahead on schedule, but the Pembina Institute called Suncor’s plan unambitious and vague.

Last week, the three countries in the North American Free Trade Agreement agreed to vote on whether to investigate if Canada is failing to enforce environmental legislation on tailings ponds, a move required after the trade treaty’s environmental watchdog concluded there were serious questions about how the federal government enforces the Fisheries Act in relation to the giant ponds.

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