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 As they are old they may contain references to out-of-date legislation and policies.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. Soil Microbiology in Land Reclamation. Volume II - Mycorrhizae [Download]

    Title: Soil Microbiology in Land Reclamation. Volume II - Mycorrhizae
    Creator: Parkinson, D.
    Description: There are three reports in Volume II: Parkinson, D., 1984. Greenhouse pot studies dealing with amendation of oil sands tailings: Effects of peat, sewage sludge and fertilizer on plant growth, mycorrhizae and microbial activity. 90 pp. Abstract: Carex and feather moss peats from northern Alberta were used as growth media for jack pine and slender wheatgrass and their microbiological properties assessed. Differences between the two peats were minimal. Following this assessment, mixtures of the two peats were used to amend oil sand tailings (55% peat, V/V) and either mineral fertilizers or sewage sludge were added at different rates. Slender wheatgrass and jack pine were grown in the greenhouse in the various growth media, and plant growth, microbial activity and mycorrhizal development were measured. Growth of both species was poor without the addition of either fertilizer or sewage. Fertilization up to the equivalent of 112:49:72 kg N:P:K ha-1 substantially increased shoot and root growth of slender wheatgrass. Shoot growth of jack pine reached a maximum at the 28:12:18 kg ha-1 rate, and pine roots weights were depressed when more than 56:24:36 kg ha-1 were applied. Maximum shoot growth of slender wheatgrass and jack pine occurred with the equivalent of 46 and 23 mT ha-1 sewage respectively. The addition of 92 mT ha-1 strongly depressed the growth of jack pine while slender wheatgrass was unaffected. In the absence of peat, slender wheatgrass was much more sensitive to sewage. VA mycorrhizal inoculum in the peat was sparse and high levels of fertilizer or the lowest level of sewage completely inhibited VA mycorrhizal infection. Ectomycorrhizal inoculum was abundant but infections were nil when more than 56:24:36 kg N:P:K ha-1 was applied and very strongly reduced when 23 mT ha-1 or more of sewage was applied. In the presence of slender wheatgrass, fertilizer increased microbial biomass but had no effect when no plants were present, i.e. fertilizer did not affect the decomposition of peat. Microbial activity (C02 efflux) was unaffected by the addition of fertilizer but decomposition of grass litter was reduced by high rates of fertilizer. When sewage was added to the growing medium, microbial activity and microbial biomass were increased and the decomposition potential was decreased. The presence of the fibrous rooted slender wheatgrass consistently inhibited the decay of grass litter as compared to unplanted systems. Danielson, R.M., C. Griffiths and D. Parkinson, 1984. Reinstatement of biological activity in severely disturbed soils: Ectomycorrhizae in amended oil sand tailings and subalpine coal mine spoil and in undisturbed jack pine and spruce stands. 97 pp. Abstract: The vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal (VAM) development of slender wheatgrass on extracted oil sands tailings and a subalpine coal mine spoil amended with either fertilizer, peat, or sewage sludge was examined over a 4 yr period. During the first growing season on the oil sands spoil mycorrhizae were limited to plants on the peat-amended spoil. While VAM infection was not detected in plants on the fertilized plots until the end of the second growing season, plants on the sewage- amended plots were not mycorrhizal until after the 4th yr. VAM infection in plants on the subalpine mine spoil was detected at 2 wk only in the peat-amended spoil. Although sewage initially suppressed the rate of mycorrhizal development, plants did develop VA mycorrhizae by the 10 wk sampling time. The mycorrhizal status of plants on the amended subalpine mine spoil did not change significantly between the 2nd and 4th year. Glomus aggregatum and Glomus mosseae were the most common VA fungi in the amended spoils. In the oil sands tailings, VA fungal spores were detected only in the control and peat-amended plots. While there was no amendment effect on spore densities of G. mosseae in the subalpine coal spoil, spore numbers of G. aggregaturn were significantly reduced in the sewage-treated spoil. The successful reestablishment of VA mycorrhizal in mine spoils will depend in part on the effects of soil amendments on VA fungal species occurrence and inoculum production. Starting on page: Zak, J.C., C. Griffiths and D. Parkinson, 1984. Reinstatement of biological activity in severely disturbed soils: Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal development of slender wheatgrass on amended oil sands tailings and subalpine coal mine spoil. 58 pp. Abstract: The mycorrhizal status of jack pine and bearberry grown in oil sand tailings treated with various amendments (peat, mineral fertilizer, liquid sewage sludge) and of white spruce and willow grown in subalpine coal mine spoil using the same amendments was monitored for 4 years. In addition, ectomycorrhizae associated with jack pine and white spruce on undisturbed and disturbed field sites were studied and compared to those found in the amendment study. Application of sewage sludge increased the rate of ectomycorrhizal development of jack pine, slowed the mycorrhizal development of white spruce and bearberry, and apparently did not affect the mycorrhizae of willow. Peat introduced inoculum of several species of ectomycorrhizal symbionts and when ectomycorrhizal inoculum in the spoil was low, its application resulted in more rapid mycorrhizal development. Mineral fertilizer had little effect on mycorrhizal development. The most common ectomycorrhizal fungus was the E-strain which dominated white spruce in all treatments and jack pine in the peat. At the end of 4 years the E-strain fungi were being replaced on white spruce by Amphinema byssoides and was apparently replacing Thelephora terrestris on jack pine in all treatments except the peat amendment. Agarics constituted a minor portion of the ectomycorrhizal fungi whereas at least four Ascomycetes and three Aphyllophoreales were present. Once established, the specific symbioses were stable for at least several years. More than 50 species of ectomycorrhizal fungi were identified from fruit bodies on a mature jack pine field site. On this site Cenococcum geophilum, Tricholoma flavovirens and Lactarius spp. formed a large proportion of the ectomycorrhizae. Species fruiting in an adjacent cutline were largely different from those occurring in the undisturbed mature stand. Amphinema byssoides was a dominant symbiont of both mature spruce trees and of spruce seedlings regenerating on roadcuts.
    Subjects: Oilsands, RRTAC, Trees, RRTAC 84-4, Tar Sands, Oil Sands, Grasses, Coal Mining, Alberta, Tarsands, Sewage Sludge, Fertilizer, Peat, Mycorrhizae
    Date Created: 1984
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. A User Guide to Pit and Quarry Reclamation in Alberta [Download]

    Title: A User Guide to Pit and Quarry Reclamation in Alberta
    Creator: Green, J. E.
    Description: This manual - provides information on: • the basics of material extraction and processing, • planning of a pit or quarry operation from start-up to closure, and • selecting the best land use or uses for your reclaimed site, Important considerations in reclamation planning and methods for reclamation are described for six major types of land uses: agriculture, forestry, wildlife habitat, fish habitat, recreation, and residential/industrial use. The manual is intended for use by a broad audience that includes small 'private' pits and quarries, medium-sized commercial operations, and major, long-term commercial ventures, and operators with varying degrees of experience in planning and reclaiming a pit or quarry. The manual provides an introduction to reclamation planning and methods, as well as a summary of current regulations and requirements for operations on private lands and public lands. The manual should be used as 'catalogue' of some of the important factors you should consider in developing a pit or quarry, the types of end uses that may be suitable for your operation, and the range of reclamation methods that may help you attain your reclamation objectives. It should not be used as a comprehensive review of reclamation methods. Reclamation of pits and quarries, particularly large-scale sites, can be a complex undertaking. You are strongly encouraged to contact Alberta Environment or Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife for assistance in adequately reclaiming your site. Agency contacts and phone numbers are provided in Chapter 10. Trained professionals such as agrologists, soil scientists, biologists, planners, landscape architects and engineers can also provide consulting services, often at reasonable cost. Good planning and effective reclamation are in everyone's best interest. To operators, good planning promotes efficient and profitable extraction of the resource. Effective reclamation returns the land to other uses, some of which may provide additional financial benefits to your operation.
    Subjects: RRTAC 91-3, RRTAC, Sand and Gravel, Pits, End Land Use, Planning, Reclamation
    Date Created: 1991
  8. Chemical Characterization of Various Oil Sands Substrates [Download]

    Title: Chemical Characterization of Various Oil Sands Substrates
    Creator: Powter, C. B.
    Description: This report is a condensed version of two reports on the chemistry of a variety of oil sands substrates from Syncrude, Suncor, OSLO and SolvEx. The study was conducted by EnviroTest Laboratories for RRTAC, Syncrude, Suncor and OSLO. Page 2 of the report identifies the source of the various samples. Data are provided for: • The raw sample; • Leachate from the raw sample (using the TCLP - Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure of the US Environmental Protection Agency); and • The leached solid. Inorganic analytical data are given for the raw sample and the leachate. Organic analytical data (gravimetric and GCIFID) are provided for all three substrates for various fractions (acid, base/neutral) as well as for targeted priority pollutant polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) and target substituted PAH's. The GC/FID chromatograms were provided in the original data but are not presented here. The chromatograms indicated a wide of compounds were present in the samples following example). Some of the samples were also analyzed for non-target organic chemicals. Only those samples where identifiable compounds were quantified are presented.
    Subjects: Oilsands, Tarsands, Tailings, Tar Sands, RRTAC, Alberta, RRTAC OF-4, Oil Sands
    Date Created: 1994
  9. 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
  10. 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