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 As they are old they may contain references to out-of-date legislation and policies.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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. Soil Microbiology in Land Reclamation. Volume I - Soil Microbial Development [Download]

    Title: Soil Microbiology in Land Reclamation. Volume I - Soil Microbial Development
    Creator: Parkinson, D.
    Description: There are two reports in Volume I: Visser, S., C. Griffiths and D. Parkinson, 1984. Reinstatement of biological activity in severely disturbed soils: Effects of mining on the microbiology of three minespoils after amendation and planting. 283 pp. Abstract: Soil microorganisms and their activities are the major vectors in the decomposition of plant litter and the subsequent transformation and flow of such essential plant nutrients as nitrogen and phosphorus. The end result of their activities is the stabilization of soil organic matter upon which the development of a self-sustaining vegetative cover is based. Consequently, a project was initiated with the following objectives in mind: 1. to determine the immediate effects of coal and bitumen mining on a variety of soil microbiological factors. 2. to provide detailed information on the rates of redevelopment of biological activity when various organic and inorganic amendments are applied singly to various minespoils and subsequently planted with different herbaceous and woody plant species. The effects of surface mining on soil microbial populations, microbial activity and decay potential were studied in a prairie grassland, a subalpine spruce-fir forest and a jack pine forest (oil sands) in Alberta. In general, mining drastically changed the composition of the bacterial and fungal communities and caused significant reductions in bacterial, actinomycete numbers, lengths of fungal hyphae, microbial respiration, microbial biomass C and ATP. However, the decomposition of cellulose filter paper placed in the field for two to three years was more rapid in the mined than unmined sites. The decrease in soil microbial activity after mining was attributed to the loss of organic matter since microbial biomass C and soil organic matter in revegetated subalpine minesoils were observed to be highly correlated. Procedures for improving the microbial status of the prairie grassland and subalpine coal minespoils and the oil sands tailings were studied by treating each one with three different organic or inorganic amendments and then planting each with four different plant species. The grassland spoil was treated with topsoil, anaerobically-digested sewage sludge, gypsum or left untreated and planted with fall rye, crested wheatgrass, Russian wild-rye or rambler alfalfa. The subalpine minespoil and oil sands tailings received fibrous peat, sewage sludge, mineral fertilizer or no amendment. The plant species tested on the subalpine spoil included slender wheatgrass, white spruce, alsike clover and laurel leaf willow while those on the tailings sand were slender wheatgrass, sainfoin, jack pine and bearberry. Individual plant species were studied on each amendment treatment. The response of mixtures of plant species or combinations of amendments were not examined. The effects of amendation and plant growth (fall rye on the grassland minespoil; slender wheatgrass and white spruce on the subalpine spoil; and slender wheatgrass and jack pine on the tailings sand) on soil microbial development were monitored over three to four years. Application of sewage sludge or topsoil to the grassland spoil was highly effective in increasing microbial activity and biomass C, particularly in the upper 5 cm of the amended spoil. The development of microbial activity and biomass appeared to be linked to primary production since both parameters increased as shoot production by fall rye increased. The increased microbial biomass maintained itself for at least one year after fall rye failed, but its metabolic activity was reduced to pre-planting levels. The decay of filter papers appeared to be related to density of plant cover rather than amendment type with decomposition in the topsoil and sewage sludge treatments being faster than that in the gypsum and control treatments. No significant treatment effects on filter paper decay were measured after growth by fall rye ceased, while the decay potential in the topsoil and sludge treated spoil increased as plant cover by rambler alfalfa increased. The N2 fixation potential of rambler alfalfa was not significantly affected by amendation, although measurements were highly variable. The microbial status of the subalpine and oil sands spoils was most improved by the addition of peat while treatment with sewage sludge or fertilizer was less effective. The effects of amendation and planting were restricted mainly to the top 5 cm of the treated spoils. Although C02 efflux from the unplanted, peat amended minespoils increased substantially over the four year term of the study, loss on ignition estimates indicated no significant loss of stable organic matter from this treatment. The fast growing, highly productive slender wheatgrass was more effective in stimulating the development of microbial activity and biomass C in the variously treated minespoils than the slow growing white spruce or jack pine were, again suggesting that plant productivity and soil microbial productivity are closely related. Rates of microbial development appeared to be dependent on the input of root exudates, sloughed root material and dead roots and shoots from the primary producers, which, in the case of slender wheatgrass, was particularly high in the sewage sludge treatment. During the first two years after planting, cellulose filter paper placed in the subalpine spoil decomposed most rapidly in the sewage sludge treatment regardless of vegetation type, while those placed in the oil sands minespoil decayed fastest in the sewage sludge and fertilizer treatments planted with slender wheatgrass. Over the long term (four years), cellulose decay potential of the amended and planted subalpine spoil was not significantly altered, but the decay potential of the sludge treated sand planted with slender wheatgrass was considerably reduced. In both minespoils, the short term decomposition (one year) of slender wheatgrass leaves was faster than that of stems. Alsike clover leaves decayed more rapidly than slender wheatgrass leaves in the subalpine minespoil whilst sainfoin leaves decayed more slowly than slender wheatgrass leaves in the oil sand minespoil. Neither grass nor legume litter decomposition was significantly affected by amendation. The decay rates of filter paper could not be extrapolated to predict decay rates of plant litter. The N2 fixation capacity of alsike clover was not significantly influenced by amendation, but sewage sludge inhibited N2 fixation by sainfoin after the third growing season. Visser, S., J.C. Zak, R.M. Danielson, C. Griffiths and D. Parkinson, 1984. Reinstatement of biological activity in severely disturbed soils: Effects of different amendments to three different minespoils on selected soil physical and chemical properties and on plant growth. 120 pp. Abstract: Three different minespoils (prairie grassland, subalpine and extracted oil sands) were each treated with three different organic or inorganic amendments and then planted with four different plant species. Amendation effects on some of the soil chemical characteristics and on plant growth were then monitored over 2 and 3 years respectively. Application of topsoil was most effective in reducing the high sodium adsorption ratio characteristic of the prairie minespoil . It also promoted the best growth by rambler alfalfa. Fall rye and crested wheat were most productive in the sewage and topsoil treated spoil, while russian wild rye was most stimulated by the sewage sludge treatment. Gypsum was observed to be the least effective of the amendments tested. Crested wheat, russian wild rye and rambler alfalfa, once established, behaved as long-term cover crops, but fall rye was found to be short-lived (2 years). The poor fertility status of the subalpine and oil sands spoil was most improved over the long term by the addition of sewage sludge. The slender wheatgrass, alsike clover, white spruce and willow planted in the subalpine soil, and the slender wheatgrass, sainfoin, jack pine and bearberry planted in the extracted oil sands were generally most productive in the sewage sludge treated spoils. The slow growing woody perennials (white spruce, bearberry) also performed well in the peat amended spoils, but low extractable P levels in the peat may have suppressed growth by the faster growing species. Mineral fertilizer stimulated shoot production by the grass, clover and willow in the subalpine spoil, but ellicited a poor response from plants grown in the tailing sand. Much of the fertilizer applied to the sand had leached out of the rooting zone by the end of the first growing season. Slender wheatgrass followed the same growth pattern as fall rye and did not reseed readily. Heavy metals introduced with the sewage sludge were not significantly concentrated in plant tissue over the short term. The N2-fixing legumes (clover and sainfoin) were observed to be least sensitive to low soil N levels.
    Subjects: Fertilizer, Tarsands, Trees, Grasses, Alberta, Oil Sands, Peat, RRTAC 84-4, Microbiology, RRTAC, Greenhouse, Native Species, Amendments, Mycorrhizae, Tar Sands, Oilsands, OSRIN
    Date Created: 1984
  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. 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