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Decision 20180613A: Syncrude Canada Ltd.; Application for Aurora North Tailings Management Plan

Press Release

Executive Summary

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) approves Syncrude Canada Ltd.’s (Syncrude’s) application 1871794, subject to the approval terms and conditions in appendix 1.


The AER regulates tailings arising from oil sands mining operations to ensure that the tailings are managed in an efficient, safe, orderly, and environmentally responsible manner. Tailings are a by-product of the process used to extract bitumen from mined oil sands and consist of water, silt, sand, clay, and residual bitumen.

The AER applies a risk-based approach to regulating, where higher-risk activities receive greater regulatory oversight. Given the nature and scale of fluid tailings generated by oil sands mine operations, and the ongoing research and development of tailings treatment technology, fluid tailings management is one of Alberta’s higher-risk industrial activities.

The regulation of tailings has been an evolving issue in Alberta. In 2009, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) released Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes, introducing specific performance criteria for the reduction of fluid tailings and the formation of trafficable deposits. To further manage and decrease liability and environmental risk resulting from the accumulation of fluid tailings on the landscape, the Government of Alberta issued the Lower Athabasca Region: Tailings Management Framework for Mineable Athabasca Oil Sands (TMF) in 2015. The TMF sets out the objective that fluid tailings accumulation is minimized by ensuring that fluid tailings are treated and reclaimed progressively during the life of a project and all fluid tailings associated with a project are ready to reclaim (RTR) within 10 years of the end of mine life. In addition, the TMF establishes four outcomes: land use must be returned to Albertans, sustainable ecosystem, lia bility is minimized to Albertans, and environmental effects are managed. To support implementation of the TMF, the AER released Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects (Directive 085), which sets new requirements for fluid tailings management plans (TMPs).

Syncrude’s Approval

Syncrude’s Aurora North oil sands processing plant and mine (Aurora North) received approval through a joint Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) and Government of Canada panel in 1997 (Decision 1997-013). Syncrude commenced production at Aurora North in 2001, and tailings treatment in 2013 using composite tailings (CT) technology (site map provided in appendix 2).

On October 31, 2016, the AER registered Syncrude’s application 1871794 made pursuant to section 13 of the Oil Sands Conservation Act (OSCA) for the TMP for Aurora North.

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