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Other Technical Reports (OSRIN)

The Oil Sands Research and Information Network is pleased to act as the distribution centre for oil sands environmental research and policy reports prepared by other organizations. Providing public access to these important documents allows greater awareness of the scientific and policy work supporting oil sands development and management.
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  1. Creating a Knowledge Platform for the Reclamation and Restoration Ecology Community: Expanding the OSRIN Model Beyond the Oil Sands [Download]

    Title: Creating a Knowledge Platform for the Reclamation and Restoration Ecology Community: Expanding the OSRIN Model Beyond the Oil Sands
    Creator: Alberta Centre for Reclamation and Restoration Ecology
    Description: One of the core mandates for the Oil Sands Research and Information Network (OSRIN) was to enhance access to oil sands environmental management information. With OSRIN’s mandate ending December 31, 2014 OSRIN sought a partner with a similar philosophy to provide an archive for the website content and to continue the role of knowledge generation, perhaps with a broader scope than the oil sands. OSRIN provided funding for the Alberta Centre for Reclamation and Restoration Ecology (ACRRE) initiative at the University of Alberta to develop an ACRRE website, which will house the OSRIN content, and to produce a series of knowledge exchange communications that will be used to demonstrate the business case for ACRRE, a knowledge generating and sharing program for the reclamation and restoration community. Previous work conducted by OSRIN has demonstrated the strong desire, across a broad base of stakeholder groups, for increased access to timely research information. Stakeholders participating in OSRIN’s workshops have also demonstrated this thirst for knowledge sharing opportunities. Outreach and application of knowledge is a key component of ACRRE’s mandate. ACRRE will connect scientists, practitioners, managers, regulators, and policymakers. Collaborative efforts within this network will focus on integrating, synthesizing, sharing and applying scientific knowledge to address challenges in land reclamation and restoration. The Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences (ALES) at the University of Alberta and OSRIN have already provided proof-of-concept of the delivery of the Centre’s outreach mandate. The delivery of the outreach program will be through: preparation of major synthesis and review papers on topics of particular importance to partners; creation of short, focused Research Notes synthesizing recent research results; delivery of technology transfer workshops, symposia, and conferences; and organization of field tours.
    Subjects: Alberta
    Date Created: 2014/12/19
  2. GHG Emissions from Oil Sands Tailings Ponds: Overview and Modelling Based on Fermentable Substrates [Download]

    Title: GHG Emissions from Oil Sands Tailings Ponds: Overview and Modelling Based on Fermentable Substrates
    Creator: Burkus, Z.
    Description: Surface mining of Alberta bitumen is probably the biggest mining operation in the world. It has a significant environmental footprint with about 840 km2 total active footprint in 2012 and 895 km2 in 2013 (Fig 1) (AESRD 2014). Of this area, tailings ponds covered 239.3 km2 in 2013 including dykes, berms and beaches. Reclaimed tailings areas covered about 19.2 km2 leaving 220.1 km2 in active pond structures. However only 88.5 km2 is covered with process-affected water within ponds, which is about 40.2% of the total pond surface area, or 9.9% of the total active footprint that includes cleared, disturbed and other categories. Extraction and upgrading/refining of mined bitumen are energy intensive operations that require significant fuel consumption resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Emissions of nitrous oxide are production/machinery related, originating mostly from combustion processes such as diesel fuel burning in heavy trucks. Nitrous oxide emissions were considered as insignificant in GHG emissions from tailings ponds. The less understood part of GHG emissions from surface mining operations is methane and carbon dioxide production from fluid tailings ponds, primarily as a result of microbial biodegradation/fermentation of lost diluent. The diluent originates in froth treatment tailings that also contain significant concentrations of residual bitumen, and associated heavy minerals that contain pyrite whose potential oxidation may be a cause of carbon dioxide emissions. The quantity of the lost diluent and its historical changes and future projections are not well understood by general public and academia despite data provided by the operators and regulators. In Part I, this paper will explain past, current and future practices that affect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from tailings ponds and present a few facts that contrast with assumptions commonly made in literature regarding fugitive emissions from oil sands mines. Part I demonstrates that due to the diversity of operations and project history, it is not accurate to assess industry average GHG intensity from tailing ponds based on the measurement of one project and one point in time, and assume that it is applicable to others. Both directly measured historic data such as diluent losses and GHG reports made by companies as well as companies’ tailings management plans are now available. Those reports take into account the unique facility processes, the variety of current and future tailing treatment technologies applied, and Closure and Reclamation Scenarios expected. Part I also shows that current measurement of emissions from ponds using flux chambers is better than high level estimates. Fugitive GHG measurements are continuously improving in terms of frequency and coverage of sampling campaigns and accuracy of the instruments, but still have uncertainties especially when projected forward in time. Historically, GHG emissions intensity from oil sands has decreased and it still has a potential to decrease further. Part II proposes a Base GHG Model for calculating future GHG emissions. This modelling effort presents a different approach to calculate GHG emissions from ponds based on fermentable substrates with a focus on diluent, which has been shown to be the most bioavailable part of tailings. It shows how it may be possible to decrease emissions by affecting fermentation pathways and applying processing or treatment technologies. Different scenarios based on the Base GHG Model show potential pathways toward lowering the Alberta bitumen GHG profile. This modelling approach, as compared to the published literature is more realistic, and allows easy adjustment due to changing technologies. The Model could work together with the current measurement and reporting system to address potential time and place sampling bias of local GHG measuring campaigns. It may also help to quantify future GHG emissions. Initial application of the Model conservatively shows total average GHG (CO2+CH4) fugitive emissions intensity from ponds to be below 1.0 g CO2eq/MJ bitumen produced, and distinguishes emissions from different producers based on the type of diluent and the associated carbon content and physical behavior such as volatility and solubility in water. The Model also demonstrates the influence of applied or potential tailing technologies on changing GHG profiles. The Base GHG Model will need further validation and adjustment for ensuing technological changes. Its simplicity almost guarantees further application, but its application in the field and by regulators still needs to be determined.
    Subjects: Model, Oilsands, Oil Sands, Greenhouse Gases, Diluent, Alberta, Treatment Technologies, Emissions
    Date Created: 2014/11/28
  3. Conceptualizing Water Movement in the Boreal Plains. Implications for Watershed Reconstruction [Download]

    Title: Conceptualizing Water Movement in the Boreal Plains. Implications for Watershed Reconstruction
    Creator: Devito, K.
    Description: The aim of this document is to provide guidance on landscape reconstruction based on the results of more than a decade of research in natural forest systems on the Boreal Plains. It is hoped that the synthesis will prove useful to a range of audiences – from general readers interested in the broader concepts and implications of the research to practitioners who require technical details on designing a landscape or directing day-to-day reclamation operations in the field. The document can be grouped into five main sections. Section A, the Executive Summary, is the highest-level synthesis of the conceptual model. It contains the key learnings from the research and their overarching implications for landscape reconstruction. Section B provides the research context: a brief history of the research, focal questions, and locations and descriptions of the study sites. Section C provides a synthesis of the core concepts on which the new conceptual model of water flow in the Boreal Plains has been developed. Section C.1 introduces the structure of the body of the document, which pivots around the hydrologic context, composition, and connectivity, and the water balance as discussed in the Executive Summary. Section C.2 summarizes the basic concepts and key principles and develops the core of the conceptual model. In general, Section C provides the fundamental basis required to develop plans and understand water flow in these landscapes using this new conceptual model. Section D describes the details of key components of the landscape. This section fleshes out the underpinnings of the basic concepts and provides details of landscape features. Section E provides examples of how to approach a water balance in these landscapes, some key numbers that can be used to guide the landscape practitioner, a summary of how the information can be used in landscape reconstruction, and some outstanding research needs. This section relies heavily on the details described in Sections C and D. One core concept arising from the research is that in landscapes there are repeating hydrologic elements and processes that occur at all scales. Therefore, one has to telescope up and down continually to understand the hydrologic behaviour observed at the various scales. Similarly, important concepts and connections run through the document and reappear in numerous sections. Therefore, for the person who reads through the document from beginning to end, repetition of these key ideas in each section will be obvious. The reader will also note that each section of the document contains a summary of key concepts from the research in natural systems. The implications of these key concepts for landscape reconstruction are reported at the end of each section. This approach is meant to illustrate, as clearly as possible, how the authors arrived at their recommendations for landscape reconstruction based on research predominantly conducted in natural boreal systems. The statements in the body of the document are based on evidence/data collected over a decade of research, most of which may be found in published papers, listed in Section F. The implications for landscape reconstruction are suggestions for consideration, based on the research findings.
    Subjects: Water Balance, Hydrology, Watershed, Alberta, Model, Boreal Plains
    Date Created: 2012
  4. Site-specific Industrial Tracer Application to the Petroleum Industry. Final Report [Download]

    Title: Site-specific Industrial Tracer Application to the Petroleum Industry. Final Report
    Creator: Main, C.
    Description: This review presents a summary of tracers use in environmental applications and the potential for tracer use in the Athabasca oil sands. An extensive literature search was conducted accessing articles in refereed journals, theses and unpublished studies conducted by AITF.
    Subjects: Alberta, Water, Monitoring, Emissions, Tarsands, Oilsands, Tracers, Oil Sands, Tar Sands
    Date Created: 2014/01
  5. De-licensing of Oil Sands Tailings Dams. Technical Guidance Document [Download]

    Title: De-licensing of Oil Sands Tailings Dams. Technical Guidance Document
    Creator: Oil Sands Tailings Dam Committee
    Description: Some of the oil sands tailings dams, licensed under the Alberta dam safety regulations, have reached the end of their service life and under a responsible environmental stewardship should be closed and reclaimed. The path to closure and reclamation requires de-licensing of these structures, since dams require active intensive risk management programs. There is currently limited technical guidance on the requirements and on the process to de-license a tailings dam. This document presents a de-licensing framework, based on a performance and risk-based approach, to take oil sands tailings dams to a stage such that they can be de-licensed as dams and considered as solid mine waste structures.The Dam Safety Office quickly became a national leader and demonstrated its value to the oil sands industry when in 1975, it appointed the Tar Island Tailings Dyke Design Review Panel. Tar Island Dyke was the first tailings dam in the oil sands industry. The Canadian Dam Association (CDA) grew substantially out of the strength developed in Alberta, British Columbia and a few other jurisdictions. One of the most important publications from CDA are their recommended Dam Safety Guidelines, which form the basis for the approvals of dam safety not only in Alberta, but also many other jurisdictions in Canada and elsewhere. I have expressed the view that dam safety systems applied to the Alberta oil sands industry are the best in the world (Morgenstern, 2010). A number of dams licensed by the regulator in accord with the Dam Safety Guidelines have now ended their active service life and others are close to it. For example, Tar Island Dyke is now transformed into a solid and trafficable landscape with advanced reclamation, after about forty years of service. However, if the license that governs the operation of the dam is not ultimately removed, it will require ongoing monitoring and reporting. Active care is not needed after closure design has been implemented and is in conflict with the desire of all stakeholders to remove obstacles to passive care and ultimate certification of the reclaimed landscape. Removing the license to operate as a dam does not imply any sense of imminent neglect. Instead, the dam is transformed into one of many landforms that have to be monitored and reclaimed to a level consistent with regulatory closure requirements. Removal or breaching, are options open to consideration when de-licensing a water dam. However, these may be impossible or inappropriate for de-licensing a tailings dam since processes, such as erosion, may result in unacceptable consequences. Therefore, other than ensuring the dam does not have ponds large enough to qualify for licensing, there appeared to be no precedents to follow to de-license tailings dams in the oil sands, which are now moving toward more advanced stages of reclamation. In response to this limitation, a group of interested stakeholders was convened to address this issue. Similar to the Special Committee established by APEGA, the group included owners, regulators and technical experts, operating in a consensual way, and supported by their organizations. This effort has been rewarded by the document presented here that provides a practical way forward to de-license oil sands tailings dams. We should be appreciative of the public service offered by all who contributed to this Technical Guidance Document.
    Subjects: Alberta, Tarsands, Oilsands, Dam Safety Guidelines, Tar Sands, De-licensing, Tailings, Oil Sands, Dams
    Date Created: 2014/03/28
  6. Assessment Methods for Reclamation of Permanent Marshes in the Oil Sands: Handbook and Video [Download]

    Title: Assessment Methods for Reclamation of Permanent Marshes in the Oil Sands: Handbook and Video
    Creator: Bayley, S. E.
    Description: This handbook describes tools used to assess and monitor the health or condition of reclaimed marshes in the oil sands region. It will guide users through the sampling methods, laboratory procedures, and data calculation steps necessary for measuring health indicators of permanent wetlands located on or adjacent to reclaimed land affected by oil sands mining. The four performance indicators, which estimate health by integrating several field measurements into an index score, are the (1) Stress Gradient Index (SGI); (2) Submersed & Floating Aquatic Vegetation Index of Biological Integrity (SAV-IBI); (3) Wet Meadow Index of Biological Integrity (WM-IBI); and (4) Marsh Condition Index (MCI). The first three performance indicators can either be used individually to estimate the environmental or plant community condition within a wetland, or they can be integrated into a final MCI score providing an overall estimation of wetland health. A video on sampling procedures for each performance indicator is available at the following URL
    The SGI measures eight physical-chemical indicators derived from basic hydrological, water quality and sediment quality parameters, which collectively represent the maximum variation measured across the range of reclaimed and natural wetlands in the Boreal Plains Region. This environmental variation reflects a gradient from high quality reference wetlands to wetlands physically disturbed by oil sands operations to oil sands process-affected wetlands, which have been contaminated by oil or other pollutants. The two plant-based performance indicators (SAV-IBI and WM-IBI) measure attributes of the indicator plant community that have a known sensitivity to the underlying environmental gradient summarized in the SGI. The performance indicators have established scientifically-derived criteria that can be used for regulatory purposes to inform reclamation certification of wetlands. Likewise, they can aid wetland management and conservation by monitoring conditions of reclaimed wetlands (i.e. improving, declining, no change), identifying remediation opportunities to improve environmental structure or enhance vegetation succession, and managing the effects of oil sands activity on wetlands adjacent to reclaimed land. The performance indicators provide several options or tools that offer standardized monitoring and assessment methods and criteria for managing wetlands, which will provide more accurate and comparable evaluations of wetland reclamation practices and outcomes in the oil sands region. These tools are simple to use and, if implemented correctly, yield consistent and reproducible assessments. Thus, these performance indicators provide important tools to consistently and scientifically evaluate reclamation success and identify adaptive management opportunities based on these outcomes. These tools can operate under the normal range of climatic variability, but sampling should be postponed in the case of events such as extreme droughts or flooding, as changes in physical and chemical structure and resultant shifts in plant community structure may influence the performance indicator scores. The performance indicators provided in this handbook are designed to evaluate permanent marshes on reclaimed open pit mining leases in the Boreal Plains Region. We recommend that future research is done to expand the application of these performance indicators to include in-situ mining sites. Similar performance indicators have been developed for permanent marshes in the northern prairies (Aspen Parkland and Boreal Transition Zone) regions, although the individual metrics and thresholds differ.
    Subjects: Water Quality, Assessment, Marsh, Vegetation, Alberta
    Date Created: 2014/05/02