Interim report on characterization and utilization of peat in the Athabasca oil sands area

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  • Two sites have been established for the study of stored peat. These are located at Evansburg ; Alberta and on the Syncrude Canada Ltd. lease at Mildred Lake, Alberta. Fibric and mesic moss peat and fen peat have been investigated in terms of their physical, chemical and microbiological properties. Such material will eventually be stored at mining sites in the AOSERP study area, presumably for later use as an amendment to aid reclamation procedures. The main purpose of this research was to quantify the changes in chemical, physical and microbiological properties that are likely to take place in the peat after a period of prolonged storage. A freeze-dry, air-dry, and thaw experiment was initiated to assess the rate of decomposition in stores peat. This indicated that drying affects most physical properties of peat. Drying affects the microbial activity in peat as measured by enzyme activity and CO2 production. Generally freeze-drying appeared less detrimental than air drying. The stored material at Evansburg was essentially composed of peat, whereas at Mildred Lake the material was a heterogeneous mixture of peat and inorganic material (sand, silt and clay). Both sites were instrumented with fiberglass temperature-moisture cells in order to record the annual variation in temperature and moisture in the stored material. Cellulotytic activity was measured by imbedding filter paper in the stored material at both Evansburg and Mildred Lake. Initial results indicate greater cellulose decomposition in the mixed peat material at Mildred Lake than at Evansburg. A higher rate of CO2 evolution from the Mildred Lake samples indicated greater microbiological activity at this site. This increased activity may be attributed to the presence of the inorganic constituents in the pile and to the application of commercial fertilizer. In the investigation of the Mildred Lake stored material, positive correlations have been established between carbon content, and microbiological activity, enzyme activity, and cation exchange capacity. Those samples containing the greatest amount of peat were highest in microbiological and enzyme activity thus indicating a possible greater rate of decomposition. Unlike the stored material, undisturbed peat near Mildred Lake showed little activity. A similar investigation into the activity in the peat storage pile at Evansburg will be undertaken in 1978.

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