RRTAC Reports

The Reclamation Research Technical Advisory Committee (RRTAC) was established in 1978 to manage the Alberta Government’s reclamation research program, funded through the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund’s Land Reclamation Program. The research program focused initially on plains coal mining, then expanded to include mountain and foothills coal mining, oil sands mining and oil and gas. The program ran from 1978 to 1994 and produced numerous research reports. OSRIN has digitized 37 of the RRTAC reports including: · all of the reports prepared under RRTAC’s Oil Sands Reclamation Research Program; · a number of reports of general interest (e.g., salinity, topsoil storage, plant suitability); and · reports from the other research program areas that address oil sands issues (Plains Coal – salinity, groundwater, soil characterization; Mountains and Foothills – wildlife habitat, tree growth, erosion). TAKE NOTE: These reports are provided to give context and historical information. As they are old they may contain references to out-of-date legislation and policies. Readers should be cautious when using these materials and always refer to current legislation and policies.
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  1. Soil Reconstruction Design for the Reclamation of Oilsands Tailings [Download]

    Title: Soil Reconstruction Design for the Reclamation of Oilsands Tailings
    Creator: Monenco Consultants Ltd.
    Description: This report contains the result of a study jointly financed by Alberta Environment, Petro Canada, Suncor Inc., Alsands Project Group, Syncrude Canada Ltd. and the Oil Sands Environmental Study Group. The objective of the study was the definition of physical and chemical soil properties required to support the forest ecosystems which are the targets of oil sands tailings reclamation research in the Athabasca region, Alberta. We wish to thank Dr. K.A. Armson of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Dr. T.M. Ballard, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia for their review of the Manuscript and their valuable suggestions.
    Subjects: Forest, Oilsands, Tailings, Tar Sands, RRTAC 83-1, Tarsands, Alberta, Soils, Oil Sands, RRTAC
    Date Created: 1983
  2. The Effect of Freezing and Thawing on the Dewatering of Oil Sands Sludge. IN: Proceedings of the Conference Reclamation, A Global Perspective [Download]

    Title: The Effect of Freezing and Thawing on the Dewatering of Oil Sands Sludge. IN: Proceedings of the Conference Reclamation, A Global Perspective
    Creator: Johnson, R. L.
    Description: Oil sands processing operations in northeastern Alberta generate 25 x 106 m3 of water-fines mixtures (sludge) per year. The fines settle in several weeks but will not consolidate to more than 35% solids, even over centuries. Freezing and thawing the oil sands sludge led to rapid dewatering. One cycle of freezing and thawing caused 15, 25, 35, and 45% solids sludge to reach 35, 39, 48, and 51% solids content, respectively. Subsequent freeze-thaw cycles, up to a total of three, caused less rapid increases in solids content. The maximum concentration of solids by freezing and thawing, even after repeated cycles, was 60%. The amount of dewatering due to freeze-thaw can be confidently predicted by knowing only the initial solids content. The freezing time for each sludge concentration was monitored to compute proportionality coefficients required to predict freezing depths under field conditions.
    Subjects: Tailings, Tar Sands, Freeze Thaw, Oil Sands, Proceedings, Tarsands, RRTAC 89-2, Alberta, RRTAC, Canadian Land Reclamation Association, Oilsands
    Date Created: 1989
  3. Manual of Plant Species Suitability for Reclamation in Alberta - 2nd Edition [Download]

    Title: Manual of Plant Species Suitability for Reclamation in Alberta - 2nd Edition
    Creator: Hardy BBT Limited
    Description: In 1980 RRTAC published RRTAC Report No. 80-5: Manual of Plant Species Suitability for Reclamation in Alberta to provide users with information on a variety of plant species suitable for use in reclamation programs in Alberta. The manual was well received and went out of print in late 1988. An \"updated\" manual was prepared in 1989. The \"update\" added new information on the species in the manual which had become available through operational and research activities, primarily in Alberta. Performance data on new varieties tested in Alberta and new species (Pinus banksiana and Agropyron dasystachyum) were also added to the manual. With the addition of the new species the manual includes information on forty-four grasses, fourteen forbs and thirty-five trees and shrubs. The objectives of the \"update\" were: 1. to reprint original information in RRTAC Report 80-5: Manual of Plant Species Suitability for Reclamation in Alberta, and 2. to add new information to the manual. Prior to reprinting, the species information was reorganized under several major headings: Species Biology, Species Tolerances and Reclamation Considerations. In order to further improve the accessibility of the information contained in the manual, a summary page with a suitability map was prepared for each species. The summary, presented in tabular form, provides, for key reclamation parameters, a rating of the performance of each species. A Species Suitability Map for each species identifies the ecoregion(s) of Alberta where the species is best suited based upon information from field test results and natural occurrence of the species in Alberta. A Combined Performance Chart was also prepared for each of the grass, forb and tree/shrub groups, rating each species for selected key reclamation parameters.
    Subjects: Alberta, RRTAC, RRTAC 89-4, Shrubs, Grasses, Trees, Native Species, Literature Review
    Date Created: 1989
  4. Current Reclamation Approach at the Syncrude Oil Sands Plant. IN: Proceedings of the Conference Reclamation, A Global Perspective [Download]

    Title: Current Reclamation Approach at the Syncrude Oil Sands Plant. IN: Proceedings of the Conference Reclamation, A Global Perspective
    Creator: Dai, T. S.
    Description: Syncrude Canada Ltd. is an oil sands surface mining and process venture located at the Athabasca Oil Sands deposit in northeastern Alberta, Canada. An estimated 300 billion barrels of oil are considered recoverable from this deposit. The Alberta Government maintains that mined land be reclaimed to an acceptable end land use with a capability ‘equal to or better than' that which was present prior to mining. This paper presents an overview of Syncrude’s current land reclamation approach. Prior to the mine overburden prestripping process, intensive sampling is conducted to assess the quality and volume of suitable reclamation materials present. These materials are then used to cap the tailings sand and the overburden disposal piles to depths of 70 cm and 100 cm, respectively. Locally grown indigenous tree seedlings are then planted on the capping materials. When reclamation is completed, the final landform, made up of recontoured undulating topography, with improved internal soil water drainage and soil properties, is expected to be a least equal to the pre-disturbed state in terms of ecological capability. The plant communities will be permanent, self-supporting and maintenance free.
    Subjects: Proceedings, Canadian Land Reclamation Association, Alberta, RRTAC 89-2, Reclamation, Oil Sands, Tarsands, RRTAC, Soils, Oilsands, Trees, Tar Sands
    Date Created: 1989
  5. Physical and Hydrological Characteristics of Ponds in Reclaimed Upland Landscape Settings and Their Impact on Agriculture Capability [Download]

    Title: Physical and Hydrological Characteristics of Ponds in Reclaimed Upland Landscape Settings and Their Impact on Agriculture Capability
    Creator: Moran, S. R.
    Description: In 1985, a one hectare pond developed in the upland reclaimed landscape at Vesta Mine in an area where extensive ponding had not previously been observed. Because of the thickness of the spoil, about 20 to 25 m, and the proximity to the active pit, a few hundred metres, it was inferred that the pond was perched above the water table. This pond was instrumented in September 1987 to monitor the subsurface water and salinity regime. Observations that continued throughout 1988 and 1989 provide the basis of this report. The closed basin responsible for the existence of pond S195 was formed by construction of a low berm transverse to a long southward draining slope. The resulting drainage basin collects and channels runoff water during spring snow melt into a series of subsidence depressions in the lowest part of the basin. Compaction during placement and grading of the lower subsoil and upper spoil produced a hydraulic barrier with sufficiently high density and low hydraulic conductivity that rapid downward drainage of the ponded water was prevented. The hydraulic conductivity was further reduced by sealing of the upper surface of the spoil as a result of structural collapse of sodic clay in response to wetting. Perched ponds impact the agricultural capability of reclaimed landscapes in three ways. (1) Perched ponds reduce the amount of farmable land within upland reclaimed landscapes and disturb field patterns as compared to upland reclaimed sites without such ponds. To put this in perspective, the area occupied by ponding in upland settings in the reclaimed sites studied is less than half that in unmined sites in the same area. (2) Perched ponds, such as S 195, result in progressive development of saline and potentially sodic soils in the area adjacent to the pond. The saturated or nearly saturated conditions in the soil surrounding the pond result in upward movement of subsurface water, which is lost by evaporation and evapotranspiration, and accumulation of salts in the soil zone over time. (3) Perched ponds result in accelerated groundwater recharge, at least early in their life. On the basis of evidence from our study, however, a single isolated pond does not produce sufficient recharge to cause the water table to approach the surface in areas of thick spoil. The recharge rate at pond S195 during the period of observation was considerably lower than during the early period of ponding. It is not clear whether this diminished recharge rate resulted from a decrease in hydraulic conductivity or from a series of drier than normal years. It appears unlikely that the size of perched ponds will increase significantly over time. It is considered more likely that the size of such ponds is limited by the interaction between the size of the contributing drainage basin, the depth of the central depression, and the rates of precipitation and evaporation.
    Subjects: Coal, Groundwater, RRTAC, Salinity, Water Bodies, Agriculture, RRTAC 90-4, Alberta
    Date Created: 1990
  6. A Proposed Evaluation System for Wildlife Habitat Reclamation in the Mountains and Foothills Biomes of Alberta: Proposed Methodology and Assessment Handbook [Download]

    Title: A Proposed Evaluation System for Wildlife Habitat Reclamation in the Mountains and Foothills Biomes of Alberta: Proposed Methodology and Assessment Handbook
    Creator: Eccles, T. R.
    Description: This report was completed under the auspices of the Mountains and Foothills Reclamation Research Program. This report is intended to provide Government and Industry staff with up to date technical information to assist in the development of guidelines and operating procedures. The report is also available to the Public so that interested individuals similarly have access to the best available information on land reclamation topics.
    Subjects: Modeling, Manual, RRTAC, Wildlife Habitat, Coal, Alberta, RRTAC 88-1
    Date Created: 1988
  7. Review of the Scientific Basis of Water Quality Criteria for the East Slope Foothills of Alberta [Download]

    Title: Review of the Scientific Basis of Water Quality Criteria for the East Slope Foothills of Alberta
    Creator: Beak Associates Consulting Ltd.
    Description: The study was commissioned to establish the scientific rationale for existing wastewater discharge legislation for Alberta East Slopes coal mines. Three water quality parameters - total suspended solids, pH and total iron - and four design flow parameters - applicability of the dam and canal safety guidelines, the two effluent water quality exemptions for 10 year 24- hr. precipitation events, and the \"no-discharge\" requirement for surface runoff from facilities and for tailings ponds were considered. Data sources for the review induded: world scientific literature, relevant federal (Canada and U.S.A.), provincial, territorial and state legislation, available background water quality data, and personal communications from coal company and regulatory personnel.
    Subjects: Water Quality, Standards, East Slopes, RRTAC 87-5, RRTAC, Coal Mining
    Date Created: 1987
  8. Soil Physical Properties in Reclamation [Download]

    Title: Soil Physical Properties in Reclamation
    Creator: Naeth, M. A.
    Description: To provide coordinated direction for reclamation research in Alberta, the need to review the current understanding and the role of soil physical properties in soil disturbance related activities was identified. Surface coal mining, pipeline and wellhead construction, oil sands extraction, timber harvesting, and agricultural production activities alter the landscape to some degree and their cumulative effect has changed, and will continue to change, the soil resources of the province of Alberta. The nature and severity of these alterations are dependent upon inherent soil properties as affected by disturbance type and the success of reclamation and management practices. Doll (1987) believed, \"the goal of reclamation should be the establishment of a permanently stable landscape, aesthetically and environmentally compatible with the surrounding undisturbed land\". Restoration of the productivity of reconstructed soil is a complicated problem. Nielsen et al. (1983) stated \"In the past, management has been judged on annual measurements of crop productivity, and not on measurements taken below the soil surface that could be used to signal the long term consequences of management of present-day soil and water resources\". The emphasis on chemical fertility has often resulted in neglect of soil physical properties that combine with chemical properties for optimum, sustainable, soil productivity. However, it is often soil physical properties that present the main limitations to reclamation of disturbed lands (Albrecht and Thompson 1982; King and Evans 1989; McSweeney and Jansen 1984). The over-emphasis on chemical fertility is attributable, to some extent, to the lack of reliable, quantitative descriptions of soil physical properties in the field. While studying soil physical properties in the laboratory using soil cores and repacked samples has yielded much information on core and repacked samples, there are limited guarantees that such information can be applied to the landscape (White 1988). In spite of soil physical properties being recognized as one of the critical productivity limiting factors in reclamation, soil chemical properties are still often used as the only criteria of reclamation success because of difficulties in characterizing soil physical properties (Omodt et al. 1975). Often soil scientists, reclamation specialists, and agrologists concerned with management of disturbed lands are forced to seek answers to their questions regarding soil physical properties in a style once described by Oscar Wilde as \"Chaos, illumined by flashes of lightning\". Measurement of soil physical properties in the field is difficult; subject to spatial and temporal variability, time and length scales, and nonsteady, multidimensional velocity fields in a three phase system. Every soil physical property and process is also modified by weather phenomena (rainfall, frost, solar radiation, and drought), erosion, and human manipulation (management). Often the inability to characterize spatial variability prevents researchers from accurately matching soil use requirements to soil characteristics and, therefore, from predicting soil performance and behaviour. Soil physical properties and processes are closely interconnected, further complicating their measurement. It is also easy to understand why field measurement of soil physical properties has been described as a \"challenge that few have ever accepted\" (Nielsen and Biggar 1967). While that challenge is still evident in the measurement of many soil physical properties, the current challenge is related to selection of those soil physical property measurements that will best answer our questions, and the measurement techniques that will best provide that information. We must simplify a complex system by concentrating on the factors which appear to have the greatest and most direct bearing upon the problem at hand. In the view of White (1988) \"What properties we need to know and how we measure them are related directly to the questions we are attempting to answer\". Through a Soil Physical Properties Workshop held in November 1990 for people in Alberta working with soil physical properties, and an extensive literature review, the authors have attempted to identify what questions have been answered, what questions remain unanswered, and what soil physical properties and measurement techniques are best suited to meeting information needs within Alberta. The objective of this review is not to provide a methodology manual or theoretical treatise on soil physics, but rather to assess the various properties and composite parameters and processes in a manner that hopefully will clarify, not confound. The report contains a brief overview of field related measurement methodology and spatial and temporal variability for each soil physical property, followed by a review of soil physical property interrelationships, the effects of development management activities on these properties, and the prevention/amelioration/remediation/acceptance strategies employed in dealing with changes in the physical property. Recommendations for future research follow a summary of physical properties most affected by reclamation activities and differences by disturbance type.
    Subjects: Soils, RRTAC, Alberta, Literature Review, RRTAC 91-4
    Date Created: 1991
  9. Woody Plant Establishment and Management Program for Oil Sands Mine Reclamation [Download]

    Title: Woody Plant Establishment and Management Program for Oil Sands Mine Reclamation
    Creator: Techman Engineers Ltd.
    Description: The objectives of the study are to: • conduct a review of readily available information on the establishment and management of woody plants on level and gently sloping (less than 15 percent) amended tailings sand and other similar sites; and • prepare a critical evaluation of the information and provide recommendations on the most suitable methods for establishing and maintaining self-sustaining and productive plant communities in the Alberta tar sands area. This study identifies the woody plant establishment and management procedures used in the reclamation of amended tailings sand and other similar sites, and how these procedures affect the rate and level of establishment of the species planted.
    Subjects: Alberta, Tarsands, Oilsands, Tar Sands, Trees, RRTAC 83-5, RRTAC, Oil Sands, Shrubs
    Date Created: 1983
  10. Oil Sands Tailings Capping Study [Download]

    Title: Oil Sands Tailings Capping Study
    Creator: HBT AGRA Limited
    Description: In the summer of 1990, research plots were designed and constructed on the Syncrude Canada Ltd., mine site at Mildred lake to test the effect of thickness and quality of replaced soil over tailings sand on the performance of trees and shrubs. Treatments included three cap thicknesses (70, 50 and 30 cm) of replaced soil salvaged from an area rated as \"fair\" soil suitability for reclamation, as well as one cap (70 cm) of replaced soil salvaged from an area of \"poor\" soil suitability. Following plot construction, seedlings of four species were planted including: jack pine, white spruce, aspen, and dogwood. Baseline soil data were collected and height was measured on a random selection of permanently marked seedlings. Survival and growth data were collected annually from 1991 to 1993. Soil analysis after plot construction indicated good control of cap thickness during soil placement but minimal difference in the quality of replaced soil between plots constructed from the \"fair\" and 'poor\" rated source materials. Seedling survival after three growing seasons ranged from 68 to 96 %. Almost all mortality occurred during the first overwinter period. Spruce had the highest survival and dogwood the lowest. In general seedlings doubled\" doubled in size during the three year period. Survival and were growth unrelated to soil thickness or quality. Naturally invading plants, primarily weedy species varied according to the amount of peat present near the surface of the replaced soil.
    Subjects: Tarsands, RRTAC OF-6, Soils, RRTAC, Shrubs, Oil Sands, Alberta, Trees, Tar Sands, Oilsands, Field Trials
    Date Created: 1994