Alberta Energy Regulator

Alberta Energy Regulator

July 14, 2016 16:21 ET

Alberta Energy Regulator: New Rules Target Tailings Ponds

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - July 14, 2016) - New requirements issued by the Alberta Energy Regulator target oil sands tailings ponds, requiring performance reporting and ensuring progressive reclamation. The phased approach in the newly issued Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects supports the Government of Alberta's Tailings Management Framework.

"These new requirements will ultimately remove tailings from the landscape of Alberta," said Jim Ellis, CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator. "We recognize that stakeholders expect more involvement in regulatory development than ever before - for matters that affect them, their communities, and the environment. That's why these new requirements were developed using the broadest consultation in our history."

The AER worked extensively with a multistakeholder committee to build tailings requirements that oil sands operators in this province must follow. The committee, which included representation from oil sands mining operators, First Nations, Métis communities, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and environmental organizations, helped the AER to create requirements that will address tailings growth and reclamation today and in the years ahead. The new requirements call for all fluid tailings to be ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end of a mine's life.

"These new rules focus on outcomes and industry accountability to address environmental effects of tailings and management of new and existing tailings through progressive reclamation, providing regulatory clarity and certainty to industry and Albertans," said Ellis.

A second phase of the directive, which will be developed once applications are submitted by industry, will ensure strict surveillance and compliance requirements.

The new directive, a summary of all the feedback received, plus the AER's response are available on www.aer.ca.

The AER ensures the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of hydrocarbon resources over their entire life cycle. This includes allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment while providing economic benefits for all Albertans.

FOR BROADCAST USE:

New requirements issued by the Alberta Energy Regulator target oil sands tailings ponds, requiring performance reporting and ensuring progressive reclamation. The new requirements were developed using an extensive multistakeholder committee process to build tailings requirements that oil sands operators in this province must follow. These new requirements support the Government of Alberta's Tailings Management Framework to ensure all fluid tailings are ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end of a mine's life.

Backgrounder

Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects

What's the Difference Between the Old Directive and the New?

The old directive was much more prescriptive. It measured operators' tailings reduction performance with one requirement - the strength of their mature fine tailings.

The Tailings Management Framework (TMF) and the new directive use the overall volume of fluid tailings to track reduction. The TMF also provides direction on reclaiming the land throughout the life of the mine and requires additional monitoring and reporting.

The new requirements are an evolution in how industry, the AER, and government will manage tailings. It tackles existing fluid tailings and new fluid tailings growth.

Operators must treat fluid tailings and reclaim ponds progressively. All tailings ponds must be ready to reclaim within 10 years after a mine stops operating.

The directive will be updated regularly, as needed.

The new directive does not set universal requirements, but holds operators accountable for their project-specific fluid tailings management. The approach

  • considers the net environmental effect of tailings management, considering consequences to air, land, land use, water, and the ecosystem;
  • is enforceable;
  • manages both new and existing (legacy) tailings;
  • provides clarity and certainty to stakeholders; and
  • requires progressive reclamation.

Tailings management performance will use four compliance levels:

  • Level 1: projects are operating in line with their approved tailings profile.
  • Level 2: conditions indicate an increasing level of risk associated with volume growth of fluid tailings at a project.
  • Level 3: the volume of tailings has exceeded the volume that would be possible to get ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end of mine life.
  • Level 4: the total volume limit of fluid tailings for the project has been exceeded.

As volumes increase, the severity of the consequences to operators increases from additional reporting to financial penalties and ultimately to production cutbacks.

Operators are required to submit detailed applications, by November 1, 2016, that include fluid tailings volume profiles and management plans that show they will meet the new requirements. If approved, those approvals will contain project-specific conditions and requirements, including thresholds. The AER will publish the fluid tailings profiles, management plans, and approval conditions on www.aer.ca.

The AER does regular audits and inspections. If an operator is not adhering to the conditions of its approval, the AER will respond with appropriate compliance action.

Operators are required to report on their fluid tailings inventories and on their performance annually. Tailings management plans are reviewed at least every five years. The AER will annually publish a summary report of fluid tailings management in Alberta on www.aer.ca.

What's Next?

The AER has an aggressive timeline for putting the new requirements in place:

  • July 14, 2016: Directive 085 comes into effect and Directive 074 is rescinded
  • November 1, 2016: Oil sands fluid tailings management applications are due to the AER
  • Winter 2017: Review fluid tailings management applications for each oil sands operation
  • Winter 2017: Post version 2 of Directive 085 with updated surveillance and compliance processes for stakeholder feedback
  • Spring 2017: Finalize version 2 of Directive 085

Contact Information

  • Alberta Energy Regulator
    Tracie Moore
    Public Affairs
    403-297-2833
    tracie.moore@aer.ca
    Media line: 1-855-474-6356