OSRIN Technical Reports

OSRIN publishes results of the work it funds as Technical Reports – listed in the format OSRIN Report No. TR-x).
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  1. Alternative Native Boreal Seed and Plant Delivery Systems for Oil Sands Reclamation [Download]

    Title: Alternative Native Boreal Seed and Plant Delivery Systems for Oil Sands Reclamation
    Creator: Schoonmaker, A.
    Description: The purpose of this document is to review traditional and alternative systems of seed and nursery stock treatment and delivery for use in oil sands reclamation. Treatment systems are considered those activities conducted prior to delivery to the field site while delivery systems include those activities involved in physically deploying the seed and plant material on the reclamation site. Traditional systems are those currently in use by the oil sands reclamation community, while alternative systems are those that have potential or promise for use following additional research. The traditional systems included the following seed treatment and/or delivery systems: natural recovery, direct placement of topsoil, nursery production, planting of nursery stock and basic seed broadcasting. Alternative systems were drawn from a variety sources including: forest industry, agriculture, horticulture, mining, and home gardening. Results of peer-reviewed and non-reviewed scientific studies were included when available; in some cases anecdotal observations and unpublished results were presented. The following twelve alternative systems were identified: enhancement of soil stockpiles, seed priming, seed nano-coating, seed pelleting, multi-species propagation, Jiffy peat pellet®, biodegradable containers, disc seed driller and air seeders, harrowing, push-seeder, hydroseeding and aerial seeding. It was clear that for all the alternative systems examined, further testing would be required on native boreal species in order to determine the effectiveness of the individual system. The following systems were highlighted: 1. Inclusion of targeted seed treatment systems, such as seed pelleting and priming, prior to delivering seeds is suggested as a promising area of future research and high application potential for field trials. 2. Seedling delivery from containers with multiple species (multi-species production) and biodegradable containers are most likely to have merit for specialized applications. However, multi-species production requires verification both at the level of identifying appropriate species mixtures, optimizing greenhouse production and quantification of field performance. Biodegradable containers are a suitable option to further test on slow-growing species that are difficult to produce under standard greenhouse conditions in styroblocks. 3. Improving on basic seed broadcasting with the addition of a delivery system that would improve seed-soil contact is also suggested as beneficial. Harrowing is an easily deployable delivery system at small or large scales while large-scale delivery systems such as disc seeders and air seeders also had merit. The main drawbacks of these approaches are the necessity to conduct activities prior to roll back of woody materials on site, as well as any major surface site activities such as mounding or deep ripping. However, hydroseeding is also an option as it could be deployed following roll back of woody materials. 4. Aerial seeding may also have merit, for specific species (to be tested) on large reclamation areas as well as in situations with remote or difficult access. 5. Lastly, enhancement of soil stockpiles is an alternative delivery system that is closely analogous with the traditional delivery system and best practice of direct placement of topsoil. Reforestation of a soil stockpile, is in principle, a straightforward activity and could easily be implemented into broader revegetation and reclamation plans.
    Subjects: TR-56, Oilsands, Oil Sands, Seed, Tarsands, Container Plants, Boreal Forest, Seeding, Tar Sands, OSRIN, Alberta
    Date Created: 2014/11/21
  2. An Investigation of the Methylene Blue Titration Method for Clay Activity of Oil Sands Samples [Download]

    Title: An Investigation of the Methylene Blue Titration Method for Clay Activity of Oil Sands Samples
    Creator: Currie, R.
    Description: The purpose of this report is to use a design of experiment (DOE) approach to examine the main factors affecting the determination of methylene blue index (MBI) values for oil sands samples. The methylene blue titration of clays has become a principle tool to assess extraction efficiency of oil sand ores and as a tool to assess the properties of the various tailings streams. The report uses a Plackett-Burman (PB) DOE approach which is designed to screen a method for the principle factors affecting the test result. It does not reveal interaction between factors that could affect the significance of a main effect in the study. The purpose of the PB DOE screen is to help identify the main effects so that a more complete full factorial DOE can be implemented. A full factorial DOE allows more than two procedures/conditions or levels for each of the main effects identified by a screening DOE. This enables the conditions and procedures for specific factors in a test method to be adjusted simultaneously as other factors are varied. Thus interactions that could affect test results are accounted for which ensures that the final test method exhibits ruggedness and is capable of generating reliable data with good precision. This report is the initial phase in the development of a rugged and robust method for methylene blue (MB) determinations. A principle requirement of the method is the dispersion of the clay samples to ensure methylene blue is capable of complete cation exchange with the clay. A 12 factor PB DOE investigated two mature fine tailings (MFT) samples for the effects of bicarbonate, basic pH adjustment, peroxide treatment, sonication, stirring, soaking, heating and Dean and Stark sample cleaning on dispersion procedures. If the number of procedures needed to disperse the clays can be minimized, without affecting the reliability of the MBI results, the method is easier to perform in a timely manner. Included in the 12-factor PB DOE was an assessment of the effects of acidic pH adjustment, preceding the titration, and variations in filter paper porosity and optional endpoint detection procedures during the titration. A 7-factor PB DOE, using both normal and folded designs, was conducted to confirm features of the 12-factor PB DOE. The main effects studied were peroxide treatment, bicarbonate, basic pH adjustment, stirring at both room temperature and heating at 60˚C, sonication and variation in endpoint detection procedures. The folded design was to help minimize the effects of confounding or aliasing of the data where main effects can be influenced by interactions between main effect components. When this occurs a main effect may be viewed as significant when in fact it is not. The study emphasizes the importance of basic pH and sonication to enhance dispersion. Peroxide treatment was shown in the PB DOE to have beneficial effects when the sample is exposed to lower sonication energies, as in a bath sonicator. However, in a mini-study using a probe sonicator, where the energy generated is greater, peroxide was not found to be essential in aiding dispersion as evident by consistent MBI values even when peroxide was omitted. The importance of acidifying the dispersed sample before titration is also emphasized from the PB DOE studies. The goal of this work is to ultimately develop an automated procedure for MBI determinations. A major challenge is to provide a more objective means of identifying the endpoint of the MB titration. The report proposes a more objective non-visual endpoint based on the current halo procedure. To this end the effect of varying filter paper porosity as well as a comparison of subjective and objective endpoint detection procedures were included in the DOE. Alternative endpoint detection procedures focused on the use of spectroscopy. A spectroscopy procedure which measured changes in the aqueous forms of MB during the titration was included in the 12 factor PB DOE. The report also discusses an innovative use of fibre optic visible spectroscopy to monitor the spectra of clay-MB interactions during the MB titration. The ability to assess whether the MB is interacting on the external or interlamellar surface of clays can enhance the information about the properties of clays in different sample types. This approach is very attractive since much more detail can be mined from the titration data than simply MBI values. This may dramatically improve the characterization of ores and tailings streams and improve process decisions regarding suitable ores for extraction and optional tailings treatments. Finally an attempt to use NMR as a tool to monitor the titration and provide additional insight into the properties of the oil sands samples being titrated with MB is reported. Although NMR is capable of observing methylene blue in an aqueous media, and could be used similar to the spectroscopy method in the 12-factor PB DOE, it is incapable of detecting MB when the clays were also present.
    Subjects: Tarsands, Methylene Blue, TR-60, Oilsands, Tar Sands, Oil Sands, OSRIN, Tailings, Alberta, Clay
    Date Created: 2014/12/04
  3. Characterizing the Organic Composition of Snow and Surface Water Across the Athabasca Region: Phase 2 [Download]

    Title: Characterizing the Organic Composition of Snow and Surface Water Across the Athabasca Region: Phase 2
    Creator: Birks, J.
    Description: This study was conducted to characterize the composition of polar dissolved organic compounds present in snow and surface waters in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) with the goal of identifying whether atmospherically-derived organics present in snow are an important contributor to the dissolved organics detected in surface waters in the AOSR. The Phase 1 OSRIN study (2013) was a pilot scale project conducted in 2011-2012 to evaluate whether Electrospray Ionization (ESI) coupled with Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Mass Spectrometry (FTICR MS) would be a useful analytical technique to characterize the dissolved organics in snow. Although a limited number of samples (i.e., 7 snow samples) were used in the Phase 1 study, the results indicated differences in organic signatures between the snow samples closest to oil sands activities and the more far-field samples. The Phase 2 project includes a similar comparison of the composition of organics present in snow and surface water as was conducted in Phase 1, but is based on a more spatially and temporally comprehensive set of samples which allows a more extensive investigation of the spatial, temporal and species variations in snow and river water. Phase 2 also combines hydrometric data with the stable isotopic composition of snow and river water to identify when snowmelt appears in river discharge. The dissolved organic composition results identified three snow groups. Group 1 snow tended to have O2 as the dominant compound class, followed by O4 compound classes. The snow samples from locations farthest from industrial activities had Group 1 organic profiles. The organic profiles for Group 2 had O4 as the most abundant compound class and a pattern of decreasing relative contributions from the O4 to O12 classes. There were only six Group 2 snow samples, but they were collected from either the geographical centre (GC) or near mining activities. The remaining snow samples that did not have similar dissolved organic compositions as Group 1 or Group 2 were categorized as Group 3 and were obtained from various locations. The organic profiles obtained for the 110 river samples (84 tributary samples and 26 main stem Athabasca River samples) showed large differences between the composition of dissolved organics present in river water and those present in snow. River samples tended to have a greater relative contribution of O6 to O8 and S2On (n = 4 to 9) compound classes than snow samples. More subtle differences in organic profiles were also evident between the individual river samples related to sampling location and season. Comparing the organic profile results between the river and snow samples show the different types of relationships that exist between river and snow dissolved organic compositions. The monthly river samples collected from the main stem Athabasca River and from one tributary sampling location (i.e., Muskeg 8) tend to have organic compositions that become more similar to Group 1 snow samples over the open water season. The other tributary sampling locations tended to have dissolved organic compositions that become more similar to Group 2 or Group3 snow compositions over the open water season. The river samples differed from snow in that the dissolved organics present in river water are dominated by O6 to O8 classes in oxygen containing compounds, and contain a greater relative contribution S2On (n = 4 to 9). Also, the Athabasca River samples had slightly different organic compositions than the tributaries, with higher relative contributions of O2 class compounds than in the tributaries. The main stem Athabasca River samples also contained some SO3 compounds that were not detected in the tributary samples. All of the river samples showed seasonal variations in dissolved organics, with larger variations in the Athabasca River than in tributaries. The distribution of compound classes in the river samples did not change significantly between May and September, but the dominance of O2 classes becomes more pronounced in September, particularly in the Athabasca main stem sample. The river discharge and stable water isotope data indicate that snowmelt was a major component of the May river samples, but the dissolved organics present in the May river samples did not resemble those present in snow. The months with the greatest similarity between snow and river organic compositions were low flow periods in March, April, and September, which could indicate significant delays between when atmospheric organics are released from the snowpack and when they reach the rivers, or that some of the organics present in snow are similar to organics that characterize baseflow. In summary, the results of this comprehensive profiling of organics in snow and river water across the AOSR suggest that nitrogen and sulphur containing compounds may be the most useful in improving our understanding of the sources and fate of atmospherically derived organics in the oil sands region. There are still some endmembers that need improved organic characterization, including baseflow (groundwater inputs and soil water in disturbed and undisturbed watersheds) to the Athabasca River and its tributaries. Direct sampling of dissolved organics that can be attributed to natural and anthropogenic atmospheric sources of organics (e.g., forest fire, stack emissions, fugitive emissions) are also needed.
    Subjects: TR-64, River Chemistry, Naphthenic Acid, Alberta, Oil Sands, Snow Chemistry, Isotopes, Tarsands, Tar Sands, Oilsands, OSRIN
    Date Created: 2014/12/15
  4. Development of a Novel Engineered Bioprocess for Oil Sands Process-Affected Water and Tailings Fines/Bitumen/Water Separation [Download]

    Title: Development of a Novel Engineered Bioprocess for Oil Sands Process-Affected Water and Tailings Fines/Bitumen/Water Separation
    Creator: McPhedran, K.
    Description: The oil sands bitumen extraction process results in the creation of waste products including oil sands process-affected water (OSPW) and mature fine tailings (MFT). Many technologies are currently under investigation to treat these waste products that are currently contained in vast storage ponds. Biodegradation is a promising treatment method, however, the current biodegradation rates for indigenous bacteria in storage ponds are very slow and need to be enhanced for this process to be considered viable. The BioTigerTM consortium has been successfully used for the treatment of oil contaminated soils making it a potentially useful bacterial assemblage for the treatment of both OSPW and MFT. In this study, BioTigerTM was not successful for treatment of OSPW after 24 h experiments at 8, 22 and 35 °C. Results for toxicity to V. fischeri were inconclusive, while there was no reduction in either the acid extractable fraction (AEF) or the naphthenic acid (NA) contents. The MFT experiments have not commenced as of yet due to the unavailability of some samples. These experiments will start in January 2015 and run for approximately four months. It is expected that the longer duration will allow the BioTigerTM to biodegrade organics in the MFT. Although the current OSPW experiments did not produce anticipated results, further research is planned to better assess the ability of BioTigerTM to degrade OSPW organics. These experiments will include longer experimental durations, higher initial bacterial concentrations and/or amendment with easily degradable organics. These new conditions should aid the consortium to better acclimate to, and degrade, recalcitrant OSPW organics.
    Subjects: BioTiger, Acid Extractable Fraction, Tar Sands, Oil Sands, OSRIN, Microtox, Microbiology, TR-63, Process Affected Water (OSPW), Oilsands, Tailings Treatment, Tarsands, Naphthenic Acid, Alberta
    Date Created: 2014/12/09
  5. Report and Recommendations of the Task Force on Tree and Shrub Planting on Active Oil Sands Tailings Dams [Download]

    Title: Report and Recommendations of the Task Force on Tree and Shrub Planting on Active Oil Sands Tailings Dams
    Creator: Hurndall, B.J.
    Description: Dam safety concern over the planting of trees and woody shrubs is in conflict with progressive reclamation, which is also a desirable outcome for oil sands tailings dams. International dam safety practice commonly restricts trees and woody shrubs on the downstream slopes of dams to preclude damage to drains, aggravation of seepage and piping and to ensure the integrity of both visual and instrumentation monitoring which require access and clear sight lines. To address this issue, Alberta Environment (AENV) requested the Oil Sands Research and Information Network (OSRIN) to convene a third-party Task Force to provide independent opinion and recommendations on the subject. The Task Force met in December 2010 and has recommended that provision for trees and woody shrubs on the slopes of active oil sands tailings dam shall be considered part of the responsibility of the Engineer-of-Record and plans will be submitted to AENV, Dam Safety for approval. The Task Force appreciates that it will be customary for the Engineer-of-Record to consult with corporate reclamation specialists for input into the recommended tree and shrub planting zones and tree and shrub exclusion zones. Potential exclusion zones include local critical areas such as drains, liners, berms, drain outfalls, ditches, access ramps and adjacent to instrumentation, etc.
    Subjects: Tailings, Oil Sands, Shrubs, Oilsands, OSRIN, Trees, Dams, Tar Sands, Tarsands, Alberta, TR-11
    Date Created: 2011/02/16
  6. Accounting for Environmental Liabilities under International Financial Reporting Standards [Download]

    Title: Accounting for Environmental Liabilities under International Financial Reporting Standards
    Creator: Schneider, T.
    Description: Recent reports from environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) such as the Pembina Institute and the Environmental Law Centre in Canada, as well as investor groups such as Ceres and The Ethical Funds Company, have addressed the growing concern over environmental liabilities related to operations in Alberta’s oil sands (Lemphers et al. 2010, Reuter et al. 2010, The Ethical Funds Company 2008, Watt 2010). Furthermore, environmental obligations are beginning to take a real bite out of the financial statements of firms operating in this sector. For example, a recent Globe and Mail article (Taylor 2010) on the owner of the largest single share in the Syncrude operation, Canadian Oil Sands Trust, notes that the almost $1 billion in spending next year it has allocated to its plants are primarily for moving equipment around and meeting environmental obligations, rather than improving plant efficiencies (Canadian Oil Sands Trust 2010). Concurrent to this is a change in the accounting rules for Canadian public companies. Canadian public companies are in the process of moving from reporting under old Canadian Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), which is now officially Canadian (public company) GAAP. This transition must take place for fiscal years ending after December 31st, 2010; which means that the first quarter financial reports for 2011 will be based on IFRS. This will include comparative information as it pertains to 2010. With the move to IFRS, one of the key areas affecting firms in extractive industries pertains to the accounting rules by which environmental liabilities are accounted for. For firms in these industries, environmental matters play a major role in operations. The change in accounting rules will have a material effect on the total amount of environmental liabilities reported and the way in which they are expensed over time. I expect that under IFRS, more environmental liabilities will be recognised in the financial statements of firms operating in extractive industries, such as oil and gas and mining. However, there are certain mitigating factors that may be strong enough such that we see no significant increase in the reported environmental liabilities of these firms. The actual settling of these liabilities will occur in the coming decades. Under old Canadian GAAP and IFRS, these liabilities are recognised in the financial statements based on their present value. This is typically done by using a discount rate and the usual methods of calculating the present value of a future obligation. The new IFRS rules are very sensitive to the discount rate used and there is some debate as to exactly how the new discount rate should be calculated. Thus, although the new accounting standards under IFRS dictate that more specific environmental liabilities be recognised in the financial statements, this may be offset by changes in the way that they are quantified. This report discusses the potential impact the move to IFRS is expected to have on firms with mining operations in Alberta’s oil sands. It details the changes in accounting methods and the potential impact on these firms with regards to the reporting and expensing of environmental liabilities. The discussion can be generalized to the overall oil and gas and mining sectors. However, the significant environmental challenges that are faced by the handful of firms mining in Alberta’s oil sands make the move to IFRS an interesting one to follow.
    Subjects: Oil Sands, Financial Security, Alberta, OSRIN, Reclamation, Plant Site, TR-9, Oilsands, Tar Sands, Tarsands, Economics
    Date Created: 2011/02/01
  7. Review of Technologies for the Characterization and Monitoring of VOCs, Reduced Sulphur Compounds and CH4 [Download]

    Title: Review of Technologies for the Characterization and Monitoring of VOCs, Reduced Sulphur Compounds and CH4
    Creator: Hashisho, Z.
    Description: The overall goal of this project is to better understand the advantages and limitations of air emission pollutant characterization and monitoring techniques from area sources. This will allow for the selection of current technologies that are most suitable for measuring fugitive emissions of air pollutants from oil sands tailings ponds. The project consists of the following tasks: Task 1: Review concentration measurement technologies for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) reduced sulphur compounds (including H2S), and CH4. Task 2: Review flux measurement technologies that are used or can be used to measure air pollutant emissions from oil sand tailing ponds. Task 1: Review concentration measurement technologies for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), reduced sulphur compounds, and CH4 Methodology A review was conducted to determine the available technologies for characterizing and measuring the flux of each of the three groups of pollutants (VOCs, reduced sulphur compounds, and CH4). The review of the technologies included the following: a short description of the technology and its operating principle; instrument sensitivity (detection limit); advantages and limitations of the technique (performance, versatility, reliability); and cost, whenever possible. Costs do not include the labour to collect samples or the costs involved in running the analyses at other laboratories, as these are variable. However, such costs should be weighed when considering the application of the different technologies. Sample collecting procedures are important as they may affect the accuracy and precision of the technologies; these techniques are generally standard and have not been focused on for this report. Technologies for VOC Characterization The technologies for VOC characterization were classified into conventional analytical technologies (based on laboratory and field techniques) and remote sensing monitoring technologies (based on field techniques). The following technologies have been reviewed and assessed: • Conventional Analytical Technologies o Flame Ionization Detection (FID) o Infrared (IR) Absorption Spectroscopy o Photo Ionization Detection (PID) o Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) o Proton-Transfer-Reaction Mass Spectrometry (PTR-MS) o Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) Spectroscopy • Remote Sensing Monitoring Technologies o Open Path Fourier Transform Infrared (OP-FTIR) Spectroscopy o Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy (DOAS) o Tunable Diode Laser Absorption Spectroscopy (TDLAS) o Differential Absorption LIDAR (DIAL) o Solar Occultation Flux (SOF) Technologies for Reduced Sulphur Compound Characterization The technologies for reduced sulphur compound characterization were classified into conventional analytical technologies (based on laboratory techniques and field techniques) and remote sensing monitoring technologies (based on field techniques). The following technologies have been reviewed and assessed: • Conventional Analytical Technologies o Flame Photometric Detection (FPD) o Pulsed Flame Photometric Detection (PFPD) o Sulphur Chemiluminescence Detection (SCD) o Photo Ionization Detectors (PID) o Ultraviolet (UV) Spectrometric Detection • Remote Sensing Monitoring Technologies o Tunable Diode Laser Absorption Spectroscopy (TDLAS) o Image Multi-Spectral Sensing (IMSS) o Differential Absorption LIDAR (DIAL) o Open Path Fourier Transform Infrared (OP- FTIR) Spectroscopy Technologies for CH4 Characterization The technologies for CH4 characterization were classified into conventional analytical technologies (based on laboratory and field techniques) and remote sensing monitoring technologies (based on field techniques). The following technologies have been reviewed and assessed: • Conventional Analytical Technologies o Infrared (IR) Absorption o Mid-Infrared Polarization Spectroscopy o Photoacoustic Absorption Spectroscopy (PAS) o Solid State (SS) sensor o Wavelength Modulation Spectroscopy (WMS) • Remote Sensing Monitoring Technologies o Radial Plume Mapping (RPM) o Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy (DOAS) o Correlation Spectroscopy (CS) o Airborne Natural Gas Emission Lidar (ANGEL) Task 2: Review flux measurement technologies that are used or can be used to measure emissions from air pollutant emissions and greenhouse gases from oil sand tailing ponds. The technologies for measuring concentration fluxes of fugitive emissions within the atmosphere were also classified into conventional analytical techniques and remote sensing monitoring technologies (all based on field techniques). The following technologies have been reviewed and assessed: • Conventional Analytical Techniques o Chamber Methods o Eddy Covariance (EC) o Eddy Accumulation and Relaxed Eddy Accumulation o Flux Gradient Techniques o Mass Balance Techniques o Tracer Gas Method • Remote Sensing Monitoring Technologies o Solar Occultation Flux (SOF) o Nocturnal Boundary Layer Box Method o Radial Plume Mapping (RPM) The report concludes with recommendations for technologies to use for monitoring air emissions from oil sands tailings ponds based on the following factors: spatial coverage, quantification of the pollutants, determination of emission factor, characterization of VOC speciation, and frequency of monitoring. For a variety of reasons there may not be one technology that is best suited for emission measurements across the oil sands region, and it is important to understand the different advantages and limitations of the technologies when selecting an option and interpreting the resulting data.
    Subjects: Oilsands, OSRIN, Reduced Sulphur, Monitoring, Tailings, Oil Sands, Methane, TR-19, Air Quality, Alberta, Tar Sands, Remote Sensing, VOC, Tarsands
    Date Created: 2012/02/28
  8. Next Generation Sequencing of Protists as a Measure of Microbial Community in Oil Sands Tailings Ponds: Amplicon Versus Metagenomic Approaches [Download]

    Title: Next Generation Sequencing of Protists as a Measure of Microbial Community in Oil Sands Tailings Ponds: Amplicon Versus Metagenomic Approaches
    Creator: Aquilar, M.
    Description: The Alberta oil sands provide a major benefit to the province as an economic driver. At the same time, their responsible exploitation, particularly in mitigating the environmental impact of oil extraction stands as a significant challenge to be addressed. One of the most contentious aspects is the reclamation of tailings ponds, vast reservoirs of post-processing water and solids mixed with a variety of industrial compounds. Microbiological processes from bacteria and archaea have been previously shown to be at play in the tailings ponds and are factored into plans for their reclamation. However, the impact of microbial eukaryotes, known in all other environments to play a role in the food web, has been relatively poorly addressed. This will be important to know, particularly in light of end pit lake plans for reclamation moving forward. To better understand the microbial communities in the tailings ponds for improved reclamation planning, we have begun using next generation sequencing (NGS) methods to understand the microbial eukaryotic communities present in tailings. We also compare results from two different NGS strategies, metagenomic versus amplicon based, to assess a productive strategy for analyses going forward. Metagenomic data sequenced using the Illumina platform from a tailings sample were obtained via the Hydrocarbon Metagenomics project. Amplicon data were generated in the lab from extracted genomic DNA from the same environmental sample that generated the metagenome data and sequenced using the Illumina platform. Informatic analyses of these datasets were run to obtain ecological measures (rank abundances, diversity indices, taxonomic affiliation). Both the metagenomic and amplicon datasets confirmed the presence of a diverse community of microbial eukaryotes in the tailings. The overall taxonomic affiliations of the sequences were broadly consistent. However, the amplicon-based study gave vastly more data than the metagenomic one, showing a large additional set of low abundance organisms present in the sample. The community of microbial eukaryotes in the tailings pond is real, non-trivial and diverse. The breadth of the community within different ponds, at different spatial distributions and seasons should be explored to better understand the extent of what is present and how it changes periodically through the year so as to better plan reclamation efforts. The amplicon-based analysis gave ~1,600x more data and revealed a much more complex picture of eukaryotic diversity. While metagenomic approaches give a broader picture of all genes from all microbes in the environment, for the specific question of assessing eukaryotic diversity an amplicon based approach is recommended at the present time.
    Subjects: Eukaryotes, OSRIN, Tar Sands, Oil Sands, Tarsands, Next Generation Sequencing, Metagenome, Amplicon, Alberta, Oilsands, Microbiology, Tailings
    Date Created: 2014/11/21
  9. Oil Sands Terrestrial Habitat and Risk Modelling for Disturbance and Reclamation: The Impact of Climate Change on Tree Regeneration and Productivity – Phase III Report [Download]

    Title: Oil Sands Terrestrial Habitat and Risk Modelling for Disturbance and Reclamation: The Impact of Climate Change on Tree Regeneration and Productivity – Phase III Report
    Creator: Welham, C.
    Description: The overall objective of this project is to develop a framework that integrates risk management and strategic decision-making to evaluate the impact of disturbance (natural and industrial) on ecosystem products and services, and on habitat availability for terrestrial species in Alberta’s Lower Athabasca planning region. This also includes an evaluation of conservation, and reclamation activities associated with oil sands development both at the lease and regional levels. The project has been conducted in phases. Each phase is sequential such that its results and conclusions represented the foundation for subsequent work. This report summarizes activities conducted as part of Phase III, consisting of the following: (1) Model projections of tree regeneration under climate change on actual oil sands reclamation materials, and (2) A comprehensive model analysis of the risks to ecosystem productivity from climate change as a consequence of the impact of moisture stress on tree mortality. Model projections of plant regeneration under climate change on actual oil sands reclamation materials Six climate change scenarios for Alberta were selected that encompassed a range of predictions in future temperature and precipitation change. The tree and climate assessment (TACA) model was calibrated for reclaimed sites that varied in their soil moisture regimes (from xeric to subhygric) and three natural sites, High Level (subxeric), Calling Lake (mesic), and Fort Chipewyan (subhygric). TACA was used to predict regeneration probabilities on these sites for jack pine, aspen, and white spruce, in conjunction with the climate change scenarios. A comparison between the natural sites and their corresponding moisture regimes on reclaimed sites showed little quantitative difference in predicted regeneration for High Level. Regeneration probabilities for Calling Lake and Fort Chipewyan, however, were lower than the corresponding moisture regimes on reclaimed sites (mesic and subhygric, respectively). The differences in the Calling Lake and Fort Chipewyan sites are largely a consequence of the fact that percolation rates were higher on natural versus the reclaimed sites. These results highlight the importance of assessing soil moisture regime using a variety of metrics. Across climate periods, regeneration in this northern region was generally improved in jack pine and aspen because of the warming temperatures and in some scenarios, increases in annual precipitation, predicted under climate change. This was particularly the case in the wetter moisture regimes (submesic to subhygric) than the subxeric and xeric regimes, probably due to increases in growing season moisture deficits in the latter. Aspen regeneration from suckering had substantially greater predicted success than aspen regenerated from seed. Predicted trends in white spruce regeneration were in sharp contrast to the other species. Spruce regeneration was reduced substantially in future periods to the point where it was predicted to be less than 20% in subxeric and xeric moisture regimes. These results indicate that from a reclamation perspective, the impact of climate change on regeneration requires careful consideration of the tree species and its associated moisture regime. Soil moisture regime generated pronounced differences in regeneration probabilities both within a given future time period, and across periods. As might be expected, regeneration was highest in the wettest moisture regime and declined as the moisture regime became drier. However, the difference between moisture regimes within a given time period also increased over time for all species. From the perspective of reclamation outcomes, these results suggest soil prescriptions should be developed and/or applied which generate moisture regimes that are submesic and wetter. Drier regimes (subxeric and xeric) appear to introduce a substantially greater average risk that revegetation success in a future climate may be compromised through regeneration failure. How well might current reclamation prescriptions be expected to perform under climate change with respect to regeneration success? Overall, results suggest that no single set of prescriptions will be adequate to maintain the current suite of tree species common to the region. Nevertheless, current one-layer prescriptions seem adequate for maintaining pine and aspen regeneration, at least on average. Practices governing spruce, in contrast, should transition over the next several decades towards an emphasis on constructing two-layer prescriptions only, in an effort to minimize the risk of inadequate regeneration. This has important implications for mass balance calculations associated with soil amendment materials. In short, drier sites should focus on pine and possible aspen regeneration, and spruce on wetter sites. For a risk management perspective, reclamation practices that generate the two wettest moisture regimes (mesic and subhygric) are most likely to result in successful outcomes, at least through the 2050s. Drier moisture regimes can have lower regeneration probabilities but results were often highly inconsistent across the climate scenarios; constructing covers that generate drier moisture regimes thus entails considerably more risk of inadequate regeneration. Although regeneration was high in the 2080s, in many moisture regimes uncertainty in model predictions was also high. However, because of this extended time frame, modifying current reclamation practices or planting prescriptions to mitigate this risk is not warranted. Taken together, results emphasize the point that the climate will continue to change and highlight the necessity for ongoing investment in this type of analysis to facilitate the process of continuous learning that can form the basis for adaptive management. Analysis of risks to ecosystem productivity from climate change using FORECAST Climate Drought is anticipated to be an increasingly limiting factor for plant productivity and survival in the Fort McMurray region. Regional climate data indicate that this trend has already begun with patterns of growing season moisture deficits increasing since the 1960s. A new drought mortality function was developed and implemented within FORECAST Climate. In contrast to the threshold mortality approach employed in previous analyses, the new continuous function simulates drought mortality using a two-year running average of a species-specific moisture stress as a predictor of annual mortality. The 2-year running average is designed to capture the compounding effect of consecutive dry years. The amplitude of the function curve was fitted to historical climate data for each species so that mortality rates were consistent with empirical observations of actual mortality events. Two different mortality curves (low and high) were simulated for each tree species to explore the sensitivity of the model to assumptions regarding tree susceptibility to drought stress. To simulate the effects of a changing climate, five climate-change and associated emissions scenarios were utilized, and one scenario representing the historical climate regime. Simulations were conducted for ecosites dominated by jack pine (ecosite a1), aspen (d1), and white spruce (d3). Jack pine showed very little mortality under the historical climate regime at either index of drought sensitivity. In the case of aspen (ecosite d1) and spruce (ecosite d3), historical drought-related mortality events were not uncommon in the simulations, consistent with empirical data. Projections of future climate conditions generated mixed results in terms of mortality, depending on the emission scenario. With the exception of A1FI, all other emission scenarios triggered mortality below historical conditions at various points in the simulation. Given that primary productivity at high latitudes is temperature limited, a warming climate thus has the potential to improve survival under some circumstances, though not necessarily on sites where drought is already problematic. Within a given species, the highest mortality almost always occurred under the A1FI emissions scenario. Though A1FI was considered a pessimistic outcome in terms of CO2 emissions, current evidence indicates that, in fact, it may be close to reality. Pine and spruce appear generally robust to drought conditions at least over the next several decades, regardless of the climate regime. Mortality tended to increase thereafter as the simulation years got longer (i.e., later in the century). In absolute terms, pine is projected to have the lowest overall drought-related mortality (the exception being mortality under the A1FI emission scenario) while spruce is projected to have the highest mortality, particularly late in the century. Aspen showed a small increase in mortality over time beginning in the first decade of the simulations. The Climate Response Index (CRI) is a metric calculated in FORECAST Climate that integrates the impact of temperature and precipitation. Similarly, the decomposition response index (DRI) links decomposition (i.e., nutrient availability) to temperature and moisture. Both indices thus serve as proxy measures of climate-related growth conditions. The A1FI scenario, by example, always generated higher CRI and DRI values than occur under historical climate conditions. Nevertheless, assumptions regarding tree sensitivity to drought stress had a significant impact on volume production and its relation to climate change. When the mortality rate was low (i.e., species were robust to moisture stress), volume production under climate change always exceeded that projected under the historical climate regime. If species are less tolerant of moisture stress (i.e., the mortality rate function was high) climate change will have a negative impact on stand-level productivity later in the century, though how much depends on the particular species and a given emissions scenario. Significant reductions in productive capacity from climate-driven mortality threaten to destabilize ecosystems beyond their resilient capacity. One feature that would serve to promote resilience by avoiding drought stress is to ensure the rooting zone possesses adequate available water holding capacity. This can be accomplished by ensuring capping materials have higher organic matter content, are not predominantly coarse textured, and of sufficient depth. Layering of capping materials to generate textural breaks also serves to increase moisture storage, at least temporarily. Another important feature in creating resilience is to properly match tree species to their edatopic position. Aspen, and particularly spruce, occupy wetter positions on the edatopic grid. For the most part, these species are more prone to drought than pine. It is important then to ensure they are not planted on sites that may become marginal in terms of available moisture. In that respect, another consideration is to actively modify planting prescriptions in anticipation of a drier climate. Conceptually, this approach is based on the assumption a given soil moisture regime will for all intents and purposes transition to a drier edatopic position with further climate warming. In Europe, mitigative activities against climate change at the stand level are focusing on the regeneration phase. This is because a well-established plant population will have better prospects for surviving the vagaries of future (and largely uncertain) climate conditions and the fact little can be done to affect survival in stands that are mature today. Hence, one approach is to increase the genetic or species diversity in seeded and planted stands. This can be accomplished with traditional tree-breeding programs (termed provenance trials) though molecular genetics techniques have been developed that significantly reduce the time and resources needed for the selection process. Other possible silvicultural measures to promote establishment and maintenance of desired communities include moving up the planting season to take advantage of earlier spring conditions, using containerized stock to reduce drought risk, enhancing drought tolerance by employing seedlings with higher root:shoot ratios, and reduced spacing to increase recovery after dry periods. Quantitative models, such as TACA and FORECAST Climate, can project forest responses and the goods and services those forests provide to a range of future climate change scenarios. Predictions made using these climate-based models need to inform best management practices and can be coupled to the continuous learning that forms the basis of an adaptive management process, thereby reducing the uncertainty associated with reclamation decisions. The report closes with conclusions and associated recommendations, and a final section describing potential next steps.
    Subjects: Tar Sands, OSRIN, Trees, TR-36, Tarsands, Alberta, Reclamation, Climate Change, Oilsands, Oil Sands, Forest, Modeling
    Date Created: 2013/06/27
  10. Review of Four Major Environmental Effects Monitoring Programs in the Oil Sands Region [Download]

    Title: Review of Four Major Environmental Effects Monitoring Programs in the Oil Sands Region
    Creator: Lott, E.O.
    Description: There is a general lack of awareness of existing environmental effects monitoring programs for the mineable oil sands region. As a result, there is low public confidence in the nature and extent of the current environment health monitoring and reporting programs for the oil sands with respect to potential impacts of these developments on environmental and human health. The purpose of this study was to engage four main environmental effects monitoring and reporting organizations currently operating in the oil sands area to document their programs. Through an engagement and validation process, program information was tagged, inventoried and characterized. Each of these organizations is unique; they all play specialized roles in providing information, data and understanding of ecosystem effects. These organizations also provide vital monitoring information based on their media, or domain expertise that is essential to understanding the ecosystem health and human health of the oil sands area. The resultant information was captured and presented in the form of a one-page visual Summary of Environmental Effects Monitoring in the Oil Sands Area. Additional contextual information adds to the understanding of the current state and is presented as a Chronology of Environmental Effects Monitoring Activities (1990-2010). Detailed Fact Sheets are provided for each of the four monitoring programs: • Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) • Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) • Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP) • Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) The report concludes by making some observations of the programs studied. The recommendations presented represent possible next steps to build on this body of work. The central observation and recommendation is that stakeholders, including the monitoring program staff themselves, lack a detailed understanding of the full suite of monitoring activities taking place in the oil sands area and in moving forward, a more integrated approach would benefit both the existing environmental effects monitoring programs and the ability to speak authoritatively about oil sands ecosystem effects as a whole.
    Subjects: Oilsands, Tar Sands, Oil Sands, Monitoring, RAMP, TR-6, WBEA, OSRIN, CEMA, ABMI, Tarsands, Alberta
    Date Created: 2010/10/22