ERA

Government of Alberta Reports

In addition to the RRTAC and AOSERP reports housed elsewhere in this ERA Community, the Government of Alberta, and in particular Alberta Environment, also published reports on oil sands reclamation and environmental management. These reports were prepared by a number of organizational units over the years, including the Land Conservation and Reclamation Council and the Research Management Division. 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 As they are old they may contain references to out-of-date legislation and policies.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. In-situ recovery process fluids [Download]

    Title: In-situ recovery process fluids
    Creator: Peake, E.
    Description: The heavy oils produced from the Alberta oil sands contain cyclic organic compounds together with sulphur and nitrogen. Upon thermal treatment they have the potential to form carcinogenic, mutagenic, and toxic compounds. Recovery of oil by in-situ combustion processes, such as the Combination of Forward Combustion and Waterflood (COFCAW) process, may result in the formation of such biologically active compounds with generation dependent upon operating conditions. The objective of the present research program is to evaluate produced oils and accompanying waters from in-situ combustion processes for possible biological activity. This evaluation is based on biological testing, using the Ames test for mutagenicity and the Microtox test for toxicity, and on the chemical analysis of oils and waters for the presence of known carcinogens. For comparison, oils produced by the less thermally rigorous steam injection process, as well as naturally occurring bitumen, and synthetic crude oil and other oils produced from the Athabasca and Peace River oil sands were examined. Analysis of oils produced by in-situ combustion showed the presence of many carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds, among them the well known carcinogen benzo(a)pyrene (BaP). The BaP content of a mixture of bitumen, cracked oil, and diesel fuel produced by the COFCAW process from the Gregoire Lake pilot project contained 14 µg/g BaP. This compares with 1.5 µg/g in unaltered bitumen and 1 to 3 µg/g in most crude oils. Samples obtained from the Suffield Heavy Oil project which had not undergone rigorous thermal treatment contained from 1.5 to 7.5 µg/g benzo(a)pyrene and emulsion produced by steam injection from the Peace River Pilot project. operated by Shell Canada Resources Limited, contained 2.7 µg/g. An oil produced by dry retorting of the Athabasca oil sands contained 16 µg/g BaP. Oils produced from combustion tube experiments with Athabasca oil sand had a similar BaP content, 2.6 and 4.2 µg/g. Some tars and pitches, especially coal tars, may contain 10 to 100 times more BaP than crude petroleum. Refinery residuals, tars, and oils from Sarnia were found to contain 150 to 1050 µg/g. Benzo(a)pyrene is the best known of the carcinogens found in petroleum, but many other known or suspected carcinogens were found in greater quantities than BaP in the oils produced by in-situ combustion and dry retorting. The assessment of any carcinogenic hazard associated with petroleum is difficult. Animal tests are expensive and time consuming; therefore, short term bio-assays for mutagenic properties such as the Ames test, together with chemical analysis, are employed. Positive results in the Ames test are not an absolute indicator of carcinogenic potential. Mutagenicity does not in all cases imply carcinogenicity; however, those polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are carcinogenic are also mutagenic in the Ames test when appropriate enzymes are included. Mutagenic activity was found with the Ames test in oils produced from the Gregoire Lake. Suffield, and Peace River in-situ pilot projects and in vacuum gas oil and pitch from the Peace River diluent recovery unit. The mutagenicity was less than predicted from the amount of carcinogenic aromatic compounds found by chemical analysis. The complex mixture of hydrocarbons which comprises these oils suppressed the activity of the carcinogens in the Ames test. Thus the Ames test was found to be an indicator of mutagenic activity but not a quantitative method for assessing the relative mutagenicity of oils. Synthetic crude oil produced from Athabasca bitumen displayed some mutagenic activity but, despite the presence of BaP, the bitumen itself did not. Waters produced during in-situ recovery of oil by both steam stimulation and combustion processes were toxic to aquatic organisms as determined by the Microtox bioluminescence assay. EC 50 values, the effective concentration of toxicant causing a 50% decrease in the light output of a photoluminescent bacteria, ranged from 0.30 to 11. The toxicity was caused partly by volatile organic compounds, primarily alkyl substituted benzenes, and partly by extractable organic compounds including phenols, organic acids, and hydrocarbons with no single class of compounds solely responsible for the observed toxicity. Wastewaters from the dry retorting process were more toxic than waters produced by in-situ combustion and contained many aromatic hydrocarbons and nitrogen compounds known to be biologically active. The chemical analyses and limited biological testing carried out in this study detected no strong mutagenic or carcinogenic hazard associated with in-situ recovery of heavy oil by combustion and steam injection. The relative hazard is probably marginally greater than that associated with production of conventional light crude oils but far less than might be expected from coal liquefaction processes or from disposal of refinery residuals. The hazard associated with dry retorting is greater than that from in-situ recovery methods and care should be taken in the handling of both products and wastewaters from this process.
    Subjects: PAH, Alberta, Oilsands, Tar Sands, In-situ, Toxicity, Tarsands, Oil Sands
    Date Created: 1988
  2. Concurrent low flows in the Athabasca River basin [Download]

    Title: Concurrent low flows in the Athabasca River basin
    Creator: Bothe, R. A.
    Description: A hydrologic parameter that has become synonymous with water quality evaluations of rivers is the term “7Q10”. This term represents the annual minimum 7-day discharge at a particular location along a river, below which flows would be expected to occur in only 10% of the years. The complement to this definition is that there is a 90% chance in any year that the average 7-day flow would never be less than the 7Q10 value. Areal variability in climatic and physiographic parameters throughout the Athabasca River basin produces a number of possible low flow scenarios. The question is then: what is the likely flow at one location if the flow at another is known to be the 7Q10 flow? The statistical analysis that answers this question is called conditional probability. It is an approach whereby the distribution of flow at one location is mathematically related to flow at another. Scenarios of expected concurrent flow along the Athabasca River are developed on the assumption that a 7Q10 event occurs at either Hinton, Whitecourt, Athabasca, or Fort McMurray. While expected flows represent the most probable situations, it is possible that a 7Q10 event can occur from a totally different flow pattern than expected. The likelihood of these other scenarios is outlined where appropriate. Both annual and open water scenarios are provided. A number of interesting flow patterns are evident. The premise that low flow events throughout the Athabasca River basin cannot be treated as independent events is confirmed. In the annual flow case, concurrent 7Q10 flows can span the reach from the Lesser Slave River to Lake Athabasca. In the open water case, there is a reasonable chance that concurrent low flows could extend from Whitecourt to Athabasca or from Athabasca to Fort McMurray. All scenarios point to the value in basin-wide assessments of low flow.
    Subjects: Low Flow, Athabasca River, Alberta, 7Q10
    Date Created: 1989
  3. Establishment and survival of ground cover plantings on disturbed areas in Alberta. Progress Report #2. Revegetation of disturbed sites. such as power line rights-of-way and strip mines [Download]

    Title: Establishment and survival of ground cover plantings on disturbed areas in Alberta. Progress Report #2. Revegetation of disturbed sites. such as power line rights-of-way and strip mines
    Creator: Wheeler, G. W.
    Description: Introduction This the second in the series of progress reports on the non-cultivated disturbed areas revegetation project deals with powerline rights-of-way and to a limited extent strip mines. The previous report dealt with pipeline rights-of-way and tar sand mining areas. Powerline rights-of-way were surveyed throughout the province to find out what vegetation was growing on them and if reseeding was if required. The Whitewood coal mine at Wabamun was surveyed to determine the success of past revegetation projects and the extent of natural revegetation. Objectives • To determine the need if any for seeding of powerline rights-of-way. • To find the native and naturalized species most likely to be useful for seeding when reseeding is required. • To see which species are likely to be useful within the various soil zones. • To find those species most likely to be useful in the revegetation of strip mines. • To make recommendations on which species should be considered for use in which soil zones.
    Subjects: Alberta, Mines, Revegetation, Rights-of-way, Native Species
    Date Created: 1973
  4. Background air quality Sandalta trailer May 1983 to March 1984 [Download]

    Title: Background air quality Sandalta trailer May 1983 to March 1984
    Creator: Murray, W. A.
    Description: The results of a baseline air quality and meteorological data collection program at a site in the Athabasca oil sands region, 65 km north of Fort McMurray, Alberta are presented. Sulphur dioxide, ozone, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and meteorological parameters were monitored from May 1983 through March 1984, inclusive. Sulphur dioxide concentrations averaged 3 ppbv over the study period. Mean ozone concentrations averaged about 27 ppbv. Nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide concentrations averaged 0.6 ppbv and 1 ppbv, respectively. The prevailing wind direction was southerly, parallel to the Athabasca River. The fraction of the total pollutants arriving from each direction was similar to the overall wind rose. However, the average pollutant concentrations varied only weakly with wind direction. Two events were examined in detail. In one case, the air was transported from the Peace River region over the Oil Sands region. Sharp increases in pollutant concentrations were monitored as vertical mixing developed in the late morning hours. In the second case, the air mass source region was in the Northwest Territories and relatively low pollutant concentrations were recorded.
    Subjects: RMD 82-20, Oilsands, Tarsands, Tar Sands, Oil Sands, Alberta, Air Quality
    Date Created: 1984
  5. The Alberta Oil Sands Community Exposure and Health Effects Assessment Program: Methods Report [Download]

    Title: The Alberta Oil Sands Community Exposure and Health Effects Assessment Program: Methods Report
    Creator: Alberta Health and Wellness
    Description: The Alberta Oil Sands Community Exposure and Health Effects Assessment Program was modeled after the USEPA TEAM approach. The TEAM approach is based on four fundamental characteristics: direct measurement of all routes of exposure (breathing, ingestion, and skin contact), direct measurement of biomarkers, daily logs of a participant’s activities, and a representative probability sample. The study was designed to assess exposure and associated health effects by direct measurement of personal exposure, direct measurement of biomarkers, and daily logs of a participant's activities. The contaminants identified for personal exposure measurement for the Alberta Oil Sands Community Exposure and Health Effects Assessment Program were sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, volatile organic compounds, and particulates. The biological measures of effect included in the study included: autoantibody activity, a neurocognitive assessment, and a respiratory health assessment including a respiratory health history survey and a spirometry assessment. In addition to the direct measures of exposure and the measurement of biological markers of exposure and effect, the study instruments also included a time-activity diary that required participants to record daily activities that might have an effect on exposure.
    Subjects: Air Emissions, Oilsands, Tar Sands, Tarsands, Alberta, Oil Sands, Health
    Date Created: 2000
  6. Acute and subacute toxicity of different fractions of Athabasca bitumen to fish [Download]

    Title: Acute and subacute toxicity of different fractions of Athabasca bitumen to fish
    Creator: Alberta Environmental Centre
    Description: The purpose of this study was to determine the acute and subacute toxicity of bitumen to rainbow trout. The bitumen was collected along the banks of the Athabasca River downstream of Fort McMurray during 1984. Prior to experimentation, the bitumen was fractionated in water at 35°C, using an ultrasonic shaker. This procedure yielded three fractions: whole bitumen, extractable bitumen and residual bitumen. In order to assess the potential interaction of the fractions with the receiving waters (Athabasca River), three additional fractions were also generated: whole Athabasca River water, suspended solids (Athabasca River), dissolved fraction (Athabasca River). Acute toxicity of the six fractions was determined over a 96h period at concentrations of 1, 10, 50, 75 and 100 mg L-1. Subacute toxicity was determined by initially exposing the fish to the various fractions at 100 mg L-1 for 96 hours. For the next 24h, the tanks were flushed with dechlorinated municipal water, and the fish were left in this water for another 96h. At the end of the first 96h, and then at the end of the experiment, fish were euthanized and submitted for necropsy. Based on these studies, it can be concluded that: 1. The 96h LC50 of all six fractions was greater than 100 mg L-1. The fractions were considered not acutely toxic to fish. 2. In the acute studies, no significant histopathological changes were seen in fish exposed to the different fractions. 3. No histopathological changes indicative of toxicity were found in fish exposed to sublethal concentrations of the fractions. In addition, blood analysis data (electrolytes, pH, blood gases, enzymes and other biochemical parameters) were similar between principals and controls. 4. Overall, it was concluded that bitumen was not acutely toxic to fish under the dosages and conditions in which this study was conducted.
    Subjects: Tarsands, LC50, Oilsands, Oil Sands, Toxicity, Fish, Tar Sands, Alberta, Bitumen, Athabasca River
    Date Created: 1986
  7. Alberta oil sands hydrological research [Download]

    Title: Alberta oil sands hydrological research
    Creator: Conservation and Utilization Committee
    Description: Extraction of bitumen from the Alberta Oil Sands by surface mining will have a major impact on the hydrology of the areas immediately adjacent to each mine, and an impact on any drainage system receiving discharge from the mining or processing areas. Conversely, the hydrology will have a major impact on the mining operations. The exact nature of the impacts is difficult to evaluate, because: (a) both surface and subsurface hydrologic systems of the lower Athabasca River basin are poorly known, (b) the exact nature, amounts and ultimate fate of effluent and tailings materials are uncertain, (c) the degree of utilization of the waters within each basin and the possible physical changes to each basin ate essentially unknown, and (d) the nature and stability of the post-mining landscape, including particularly the success of reclamation and revegetation is open to speculation. In fact, at present we cannot predict even the simpler natural hydrologic characteristics of the river, nor do we have any real idea of the effect of the effluents produced by the oil sands plants. In this context, we generally conclude that the main initial emphasis of hydrologic studies should be on gathering sufficient information that the questions implied in items (a), (b) and (c) can be answered, and hence item (d) appraised. Sufficient data are needed to simulate surface runoff through the mining areas and to simulate groundwater flow systems in the mining areas; background data are needed on the physical and chemical characteristics of rivers and streams to determine present status, and so that pollution loads and other changes can be monitored. It is necessary to know, among other things: flood flows, to decide on the needs for and designs of stream diversions; the low-flow characteristics streams, for pollution control; and the severity of ice runs, again for flood information and diversion designs. To obtain this information, a general two-phase approach is needed: (1) an inventory of the hydrologic resources in the drainage basins likely to be affected by mining in the near future, and also in the Peace-Athabasca delta, and (2) a detailed examination of existing operations, to study water use and water wastes, including drainage of mining areas, tailings ponds, etc. To achieve this, specific study topics are set out below (in outline only, due to time constraints). These research needs should be formulated more specifically as projects, including scope, method, precision and timing before they are allocated and funded. In this respect, to help ensure that the desired results will be obtained and to obtain some measure of continuity, task force members consider that their respective agencies should have the opportunity of contributing more specifically to project formulation. Beyond this, hydrologic research needs will become apparent from the results of the first-phase investigations and the detailed nature of the mining developments. Definition of these needs is thus a continuing process; this report should not be considered the definitive and final document, but rather the initiation of a spectrum of projects. It was particularly noted, however, that time and again discussion ultimately and inevitably led back to one key issue – the nature and disposition of the tailings and plant effluents. These will determine the size of development impact on the hydrologic system – either directly, or indirectly through the degree of success of reclamation, which is intimately dependent on the nature of the solids and liquids left in the mined-out regions. The research needs are set out in two groups – (1) describing existing hydrologic resources and (2) development impact studies. Within these two groups listing is in descending order of priority.
    Subjects: Tar Sands, Research Needs, Alberta, Hydrology, Oil Sands, Oilsands, Tarsands
    Date Created: 1974
  8. Athabasca River monitoring program - 1981 [Download]

    Title: Athabasca River monitoring program - 1981
    Creator: Byrtus, G.
    Description: The Pesticide Chemicals Branch of Alberta Environment conducted a monitoring program in 1981 related to two methoxychlor treatments of the Athabasca River for black fly (Diptera: Simulium arcticum) control. Three populations of black fly larvae were observed in 1981 and the first two populations were reduced by 95.4% (May 20/21 treatment) and 96.5% (June 19 treatment) respectively. Population reductions of non-target organisms due to methoxychlor was limited for the May 20/21 treatment but was considerable for the June 19 treatment. Water samples collected from the Athabasca River at Fort McMurray contained only trace amounts of methoxychlor. Adult black fly activity in the farming area peaked in late July, correlating with expected adult emergence.
    Subjects: Methoxychlor, Alberta, Pesticide, Blackfly Control, Athabasca River
    Date Created: 1982
  9. Revegetation research: A progress report on work accomplished in 1975 [Download]

    Title: Revegetation research: A progress report on work accomplished in 1975
    Creator: Vaartnou, H.
    Description: This report outlines the progress made in 1975 in the Revegetation Research Program which is co-ordinated through the Botany Section of the Plant Industry Laboratory. This program is a joint research project co-sponsored by Alberta Agriculture, Alberta Environment, Alberta Highways and the Oil Sands Environmental Research Program. The program was initiated in 1973. That year a detailed provincial survey was done in regard to revegetative growth on newly disturbed areas. The major conclusion from the work of that year related to revegetation possibilities in unfavourable environments. The study showed that revegetation of moist, well drained areas appeared to be no real problem and could be accomplished using agronomic varieties now on the market. However, it became apparent that areas which are not so favourably endowed by nature would prove more difficult to revegetate. For these areas native species and naturalized landraces seemed to offer greater possibilities of success. This assumption was the initiating factor for the work done in 1974. In 1974 sites were selected throughout the province in order to test the growth possibilities of native species and naturalized landraces. These sites were selected in different areas of the province in an effort to obtain data on as many different micro-environments as possible. By the fall of 1974 34 test sites had been obtained and on 27 of these at least some planting had taken place. The detailed results of this work done in 1973 and 1974 are available in previous years reports. The work done in the summer of 1975 is a direct continuation of that of 1974. More small sites (see included map) were obtained and these also were planted with rows of test plants. We believe that by now there are sufficient sites throughout the province so that reasonable conclusions can be drawn for most areas in a few years time. The only areas in which additional sites are needed are the foothill and mountain areas, and very specialized sites such as Forestburg and Round Hills. Hopefully sites will be obtained in these areas and they will be planted in the future along with additional planting of native legumes and shrubs at current sites. In addition to the small sites larger areas have also been obtained to study the possibilities of seed increase of native ecotypes. These sites have also been outlined in this report. Included in this report is a short evaluation resume of the growth occurring at each site. In most cases the sites were evaluated twice during the course of the year. Very little growth was expected from those sites which were planted this year and this proved to be the case. Those sites which had substantial growth were evaluated for height and vigour. The height evaluation was done using standard techniques while the vigour rating was a subjective rating from 0 - 5, with 0 representing no growth at all above ground and 5 designating an excellent row. In the interest of brevity these results have not been detailed in full but the highlights for each site have been summarized. It must be emphasized that these are only first year results and conclusions must not be taken as applying with validity for long term extrapolation. Also each site must be taken as a separate entity and comparisons between sites are risky at best. The first tentative conclusions on these early test sites will be specified in two years time. In the summer of 1975 we were able, for the first time, to collect a reasonable amount of seed from native legumes and shrubs. This has been used to carry out the winter research in the laboratory and will also be used for limited field work in the spring. We expect that more seed from native legumes and shrubs will be needed to properly evaluate the ecotypic variability of various species and thus this seed will be collected in future years. Also, in 1975 the Plant Industry Division, Soil and Feed Testing Laboratory, analyzed the soil samples taken from each of the actual test sites. Consequently we are now able to relate the ecotypes involved to the overall environment and also to soil properties. This report also outlines the laboratory research which is underway at present. This research is being carried out in growth chambers and greenhouses supplied by Alberta Agriculture for this program. This laboratory work is reported in five sections: III Soil Analysis IV Seed Technology study V Testing of grasses on various soil types VI Testing of legumes on various soil types VII A study of the micro-organisms associated with seeds and seedlings. A report of the Preliminary vegetation survey of the Alberta Oil Sands Area - Bryophytes and Lichens conducted by Dr. P. W. Stringer is also included in this report. This survey was financed by money allocated for the AOSERP Empirical Revegetation Study.
    Subjects: Revegetation, Alberta, Tar Sands, Oilsands, Native Species, Tarsands, Oil Sands
    Date Created: 1976
  10. Athabasca tar sands corridor study. Volume 7B Appendix: Public meetings - phase II [Download]

    Title: Athabasca tar sands corridor study. Volume 7B Appendix: Public meetings - phase II
    Creator: Stewart Weir Stewart Watson & Heinrichs
    Description: The philosophy of the Study as envisaged at the outset, is to obtain the maximum useful input from all those who might be affected in any way. The basis is complete disclosure by the Consultant Group of all relevant material and ideas. Technical meetings were held to obtain pertinent information from these people to complete specific parts of the study: Calgary Technical Group Meeting Calgary Industry Seminar Edmonton Study Group Meeting
    Subjects: Consultation, Tarsands, Oilsands, Public Input, Planning, Oil Sands, Pipeline, Alberta, Tar Sands, Rights-of-way
    Date Created: 1974