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 As they are old they may contain references to out-of-date legislation and policies.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. 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
  3. The Alberta Oil Sands Community Exposure and Health Effects Assessment Program: Technical report [Download]

    Title: The Alberta Oil Sands Community Exposure and Health Effects Assessment Program: Technical report
    Creator: Alberta Health and Wellness
    Description: The Main Study of the Alberta Oil Sands Community Exposure and Health Effects Assessment Program had three main objectives: 1. Describe the population and personal distribution of exposure to airborne chemicals and particulates: • estimate the population distribution of selected airborne chemicals and particulates; • estimate the seasonal variation of exposure and; • characterize the personal variation of exposure as a function of individual activity patterns. 2. Quantify the relative contribution of various exposure sources and pathways to airborne chemicals: • quantify the relative contribution of outdoor and indoor air to the total exposure. 3. Describe associations between exposure to airborne chemicals and human health effects: • analyze occurrence relationships between selected exposures, biomarkers, and health outcomes.
    Subjects: Alberta, Oil Sands, Oilsands, Tarsands, Health, Air Emissions, Tar Sands
    Date Created: 2000
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. The fish and fisheries of the Athabasca River basin: Status and environmental requirements [Download]

    Title: The fish and fisheries of the Athabasca River basin: Status and environmental requirements
    Creator: Wallace, R. R.
    Description: The information presented here reviews what is currently known of fish ecology and production of the Athabasca Basin, and includes discussions of fish production, sport and commercial use of fish populations, and alternative opportunities for recreational fishing in the rivers of the Athabasca Basin. Fisheries management objectives for the basin rivers and data gaps in existing knowledge of fish and fisheries are also discussed. In addition, water quality criteria for the protection of fish and aquatic life have been referenced, and, where possible, stream flows which affect fish populations have been included. The Athabasca Basin accounts for 23% of the land area of Alberta. For the purposes of this report, the basin has been divided into 10 sub-basins: four mainstem sub-basins, and six tributary sub-basins. The mainstems of the principal rivers of the 10 sub-basins provide approximately 4,390 km of fish habitat which can be roughly divided as providing 1,500 km (34%) coldwater habitat (supporting mainly trout and whitefish), 2,250 km (51%) warmwater habitat (supporting mainly pike, walleye, and goldeye), and 640 km (15%) transition zone intermediate between the two. Both commercial and recreational fisheries occur within the Athabasca Basin. The commercial fish catch represents a substantial proportion of the overall harvest and total market value of the Alberta commercial fishery. The recreational fishery occurs mainly in rivers and streams, though some lakes and reservoirs provide alternate opportunities. In 1980/81, approximately 9% (26,346) of Alberta's licensed anglers resided and fished within the Athabasca Basin. The opportunities provided to sport fishermen by the basin rivers have local, regional and in some cases, national significance. The Athabasca River rises high in the Rocky Mountains, and terminates at the delta created by the Peace and Athabasca rivers at the western extreme of Lake Athabasca. Over its length, the Athabasca River grows from a torrential high-mountain stream to a silt-laden major river at its delta, and its basin encompasses virtually every temperate stream type. In its upstream reaches, the Athabasca River flows generally northeast, steadily increasing in volume as it receives flows from the Berland, McLeod, Pembina, Lesser Slave, Lac La Biche, and Calling rivers. Further downstream, in the vicinity of a series of rapids, the river receives flows from the Pelican and Horse rivers. Near Fort McMurray, the Athabasca forms a confluence with the Clearwater River, and turns to flow north through the Athabasca Oi1 Sands region. Within the oil sands, the Athabasca River receives flows from many rivers and streams, including the Steepbank, Muskeg, Mackay, Ells, Firebag, and Richardson rivers. Reaching the Peace-Athabasca Delta near Embarras Portage, the Athabasca River subsequently forms part of the Mackenzie drainage, which empties into the Beaufort Sea. Flowing through diverse and widely differing terrain, including remote alpine areas, populated urban settings, and the 1argest open-pit oil sands mining sites in the world, the Athabasca Basin is made up of a corresponding variety of waterbodies. Within the basin, each sub-basin has characteristic fish-producing capabilities, which are largely determined by the conditions which contribute to its environment. The primary features of each sub-basin and the characteristics of its lakes and rivers are summarized.
    Subjects: Athabasca River, Tarsands, Tar Sands, Oilsands, Fish, Alberta, Oil Sands
    Date Created: 1984
  7. Modelling the circulation and sediment distribution in the Athabasca Delta area [Download]

    Title: Modelling the circulation and sediment distribution in the Athabasca Delta area
    Creator: Harrington, R. A.
    Description: This project undertook an assessment of the potential for using satellite imagery to determine water quality parameters in the southwest end of Lake Athab8sca and to provide a mathematical model capable of simulating the circulation patterns in this area of the lake. A substantial amount of field data was collected for calibration purposes and served to ellucidate some of the hydraulic characteristics of the study area. The results indicated that water from the Athabasca River and its distributary channels could reach the north shore of the lake under conditions of moderately large inflow. It had been previously assumed that penetration of river water so far into the lake was unlikely. In addition, river water was found to extend up to at least 20 km northeast of the distributary channels. Water from the Embarras River and Fletcher Channel generally leaves the lake via the Chenal des Quatres Fourches while water from Big Point Channel generally discharges through the Riviere des Rochers. Correlation of LANDSAT imagery with contemporaneous water quality data yielded a high correlation between suspended sediment concentrations and band 6 digital response values. No other water quality parameters were correlated with the raw LANDSAT data. Principal component analysis of the satellite data indicated a high correlation between suspended sediment and the first principal component, which emphasized the infrared bands. In addition, conductivity was well correlated with the third principal component, which emphasized the difference between the visible bands. This result could prove beneficial in analysing satellite imagery since conductivity is a useful parameter for differentiating between lake and river water. A finite element model was developed which solves the vertically integrated momentum and continuity equations. Based on an implicit time stepping algorithm, the model was used to generate circulation patterns for an idealized representation of the study area.
    Subjects: Alberta, Remote Sensing, Tar Sands, Oilsands, Tarsands, Model, Athabasca Delta, Oil Sands, Sediment
    Date Created: 1982
  8. Control of black flies in the Athabasca River: Technical document [Download]

    Title: Control of black flies in the Athabasca River: Technical document
    Creator: Haufe, W. O.
    Description: The program was designed from feasibility studies to develop and evaluate chemical control of S. arcticum in the Athabasca River. This appeared to be the most immediately achievable and economically practical approach to prevention of severe pest outbreaks and to reduction of farm losses in livestock production. Primary emphasis in these studies has been placed on S. arcticum as the pest incriminated in severe outbreaks of biting flies affecting livestock enterprises in Athabasca County and Improvement District No. 18. The program has been designed to embrace the more extensive problems of biting flies in agriculture, and concomitantly to provide information necessary for management of problems of black flies that occur during the development of resource and recreational industries in northern Alberta. This document contains 21 technical reports supporting the program studies.
    Subjects: Athabasca River, Alberta, Black Flies, Methoxychlor, Simulium
    Date Created: 1980
  9. Performance of vegetation on mined sands [Download]

    Title: Performance of vegetation on mined sands
    Creator: Bliss, L. C.
    Description: This reports covering the results of the 1977 research, adds significantly to the earlier findings. It is always difficult to predict long term plant responses on only a few years of data; in this case, only two years. Climatically the two summers (May - August) were very similar, with the mean monthly temperatures averaging 0.2°C lower in 1977. Precipitation was ~20% higher in 1977, cloud cover was also greater, and as a result, diffuse radiation was higher. Short wave and net radiation were similar to the previous year. Net radiation increased from 70 W m-2 in early March to a maximum 207 W m-2 in mid-June. Photosynthetically active radiation (PHAR) was about 50% of incoming radiation, similar to other temperate region studies. Summer climate of the Richardson lookout Station is similar to the long term summer climate at Fort McMurray. Temperatures for May through August were slightly warmer (0.4 to 1.3°C) at Richardson and precipitation is ~20 mm less than at Fort McMurray. There are also fewer summer days with precipitation at the research site (44 vs. 55 days). As found the previous year, little precipitation runs off these porous sands. During spring thaw. water runs down slope within the soil above the frozen soil layer. About 50% of total precipitation moves out of the rooting zone to greater soil depths and is therefore unavailable for plant growth. The Jack Pine forest and its limited understory use only 170-200 mm of water per year, yet soil water potentials seem to not drop below 1.0 MPa. Microclimate within a forest canopy is difficult to measure and this is further complicated by working on a slope. As in 1976, gradients of temperature, water vapour and wind were small within the forest canopy. The exchange surfaces for heat and water vapour are diffuse due to openness of the canopy and its slope position. In spite of this, the canopy acts as a \"surface layer\" for radiation. On nights with little cloud cover and light winds (0.5 to 0.8 m s-l) cold air drainage was greatest, resulting in temperature differences of 3.5 to 7.0oC between the mid-slope and bottom-slope sites. Soil heat flux amounted to 7% of net radiation measured above the canopy. Soils were naturally warmest near the surface, decreasing in heat with depth. At 200 cm soils were generally 8 to 10 oC cooler than at -2 cm and the time lag for heat transfer to the deepest level measured was 3-4 days. As observed in 1976, interception of precipitation by the tree canopy and trunk is high in storms with little precipitation and rains of low intensity predominate. On average, 53% of all precipitation was absorbed by the trees. Interception was greatest (44%) near the tree base (25 cm) and significantly less (17%) at a distance of 1 m. As a result of increased turbulent exchange within the forest canopy a more homogeneous environment of temperature, water vapour, and air movement results. This, however, makes it more difficult to establish the actual sources and sinks within a Jack Pine forest. The field and laboratory data on young and mature Jack Pine show how well this tree species is adapted to high water stress environments. As with other conifers, this species has relatively low maximum net assimilation rates (6 to 8 mg dm-2 h-1). After two drying cycles, maximum rates were 4.5 mg dm-2 h-1. This indicates some supression of photosynthetic capacity following severe drought yet an ability for considerable recovery. Net assimilation reached zero at 2.2 MPa leaf water potential, again indicating a considerable adaptation to stressful environments. Trees avoid winter and spring drought stress by maintaining high leaf resistances; the stomates remain closed when the soils are frozen. In winter cavitation does not occur and as a result, water columns are maintained in the xylem and therefore a better water balance. In summer the stomates are sensitive to atmospheric VPD and close prior to xylem tension or ~ leaf triggered closure. Considerable osmotic adjustment also occurs which permits further water uptake as ~ soil increases. The lethal limit for  leaf is at least -3.5 to -4.0 MPa. Under extreme drought conditions the more photosynthetically active needles survive at the expense of the young ones. All of these data contribute to a more complete understanding of why Jack Pine is so well adapted to these cold winter and warm droughty summer conditions that dominate these porous sands. The mycorrhizal studies showed that 14 species of fungi formed mycorrhizae with Jack Pine under synthetic conditions. From this work and the field studies, it appears that no small group of fungi dominate the below ground symbiotic system. In the field 57 species of fungi were found associated with Jack Pine within a limited area. The synthesis test showed that a variety of fungi produce the non-descript associations found in the field. Mycorrhizal fungi were studied in relation to Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and all of the infections were of the ectendomycorrhizal type. Fifteen species of mycorrhizal fungi were grown at different osmotic potentials using NaCl and sucrose. All species grew the most at high osmotic potentials (-0.16 and -0.61 MPa). This differs from other studies for the fungi grew most at lower potentials (-1.5 to 5.8 MaPa). In summary this second year of limited field work but intensive laboratory and greenhouse studies contribute to a much fuller understanding of the factors related to the very successful growth of Jack Pine and its associated lichen understory on these deep sands.
    Subjects: Climate, RMD OF-27, Mycorrhizae, Trees, Jack Pine, Alberta
    Date Created: 1979
  10. Present and potential effects of anthropogenic activities on waters associated with peatlands in Alberta [Download]

    Title: Present and potential effects of anthropogenic activities on waters associated with peatlands in Alberta
    Creator: Turchenek, L. W.
    Description: A literature review and problem analysis of the present and potential effects of human activities in peatlands on the quality and quantity of associated waters is presented in this report. The specific objectives were to describe: 1. The present state of knowledge about waters associated with peatlands in Alberta. 2. The kinds of anthropogenic activities which may have an impact on waters associated with peatlands in Alberta. 3. The potential impact of anthropogenic activities on waters associated with peatlands. 4. The significant deficiencies in information and knowledge with regard to Alberta peatlands, and recommendations for further action, if required. Premises The area of peatlands in Alberta is estimated at 12.7 million hectares, accounting for about 19% of the total land area of the province. There has been relatively little use of peatlands in Alberta and in the rest of Canada, although some types of peatland exploitation are increasing. The utilization of peatlands in other parts of the world has been shown to have various effects on the environment, particularly with regard to the downstream quality and quantity of water. There is increasing use of peatlands in Alberta, especially for agriculture, forestry, and horticultural peat moss extraction. Peatlands can also be affected by pollutants, particularly the deposition of acidic and acid-forming substances. Because of the considerable area of peatlands in Alberta, the increasing uses of peatlands for various purposes, and the potential impacts of pollutants, there is concern about the effects on the quality of waters associated with peatlands. Consequently there is a need for an initial review of the nature and extent of these problems in Alberta, and for identification of those areas that require further attention. Methods The objectives indicated above were addressed through a review and analysis of pertinent world and local literature. The nature, properties, and functions of peatlands are reviewed in the first few chapters of the report. This is followed by an examination of the kinds and extent of activities which may affect peatlands in Alberta and, based on the literature from other provinces and countries, a review of the actual hydrochemical and hydrological impacts which could occur.
    Subjects: Agriculture, Hydrology, Alberta, Peatland, Water Quality, Acid Deposition, Biogeochemistry, RMD 90, Vegetation, Forestry
    Date Created: 1990