News Release 2010-08-11


News Release 2010-08-11

News Release 2010-08-11 (NR2010-11)

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ERCB conditionally approves tailings plan for Imperial Kearl project

For immediate release

Calgary, Alberta (Aug 11, 2010)… Calgary, Alberta (August 11, 2010) Following a technical review, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) has approved with conditions a tailings management plan for the Imperial Kearl project submitted under Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes . Over the life of the plan, the Kearl project will cumulatively equal or exceed Directive 074 total fines capture requirements.

The ERCB has approved the Kearl tailings plan with eight conditions (see attached backgrounder). Imperial states that its plan would not be able to achieve the Directive 074 fine tailings reduction annual targets up to the first six years of production because it incorporates new technologies that require time to be implemented. In response to this delay, the ERCB has directed Imperial to submit an updated plan by January 2012 that evaluates alternatives and proposes measures to further accelerate fines tailings treatment. Imperial is also being directed to exceed the Directive 074 annual fine tailings reduction requirements for the years following 2018 such that cumulative overall fine tailings reductions equal to Directive 074 requirements are achieved by 2023. The Imperial Kearl project, slated to begin operating in 2012, involves one tailings pond, which will be decommissioned by 2038.

The ERCB is continuing its reviews of the three remaining tailings plans, submitted by Canadian Natural Resources Limited for its Horizon project and by Shell for the Jackpine and Muskeg River projects.

Thus far, oil sands operators have committed more than $1.5 billion in upgrades to comply with the Directive.

While conducting the technical review of each tailings plan, the ERCB has worked with the operators to ensure every operator is taking all possible actions to meet the requirements of Directive 074 while considering each project’s specific geological and technical requirements.

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For more information, please contact:

Davis Sheremata, ERCB Communications
Phone: 403-605-4216
Media line: 1-855-474-6356



Conditions on Imperial Kearl Approval
  1. Imperial shall submit a mine-life tailings plan by September 30, 2010 or such other date approved by the Board.
  2. Imperial shall:
    1. Adhere to the following milestones for the development of TSRU Tailings Treatment unless otherwise approved by the Board and must notify the ERCB in advance of any anticipated milestone delays of two months or greater.
      1. September 30, 2010 Submit to the ERCB the results of the TSRU tailings laboratory pilot work and preliminary geotechnical assessments of the treated TSRU tailings.
      2. December 31, 2011 Submit the technology assessment and selection for TSRU tailings treatment to the ERCB
      3. September 30, 2013 Submit to the ERCB the first annual fine tailings material balance.
      4. June 30, 2014 Review conceptual TSRU process design details with ERCB
      5. June 30, 2015 Submit to the ERCB the TSRU DDA plan for approval
      6. June 30, 2017 Commission TSRU treatment facilities
      7. March 31, 2018 Commence TSRU tailings treatment and disposal in the in-pit DDA
    2. Submit the detailed engineering design information for the TSRU tailings treatment facility to the ERCB for approval by June 30, 2016 or such other date approved by the Board. The submission shall include
      1. Plant technology description;
      2. Plant technology schematic (figure);
      3. Table of plant technology parameters (including key planning assumptions);
      4. Process flow diagram (including fines balance);
      5. Plot plan;
      6. Plant location figure (including relevant infrastructure);
      7. Table of proposed volumes of tailings to be treated utilizing plant technology;
      8. Plant project Gantt Chart (include actual status in relation to milestones listed in condition 19a of Approval No. 10829C and remaining project tasks);
      9. Table of outstanding plant technology development risks; and
      10. Table of major equipment ordered and delivery Dates.
  3. Imperial shall submit a plan by January 31, 2012 for approval that evaluates alternatives and proposes measures to further accelerate fine tailings treatment. The submission shall include the following:
    1. Alterations considered to reduce time for MFT formation and delivery to a fine tailings treatment system including:
      1. ETA alterations;
      2. Operational improvements, and
      3. Additional equipment;
    2. Process engineering means for achievement of required fine tailings density;
    3. Out of pit DDA locations considered;
    4. Fine tailings treatment development milestones; and
    5. Other information as the Board may require.
  4. Imperial shall submit a tailings measurement plan for approval two years prior to tailings deposition in DDAs or such other date approved by the Board.
  5. Imperial shall meet an equivalent 50% fines capture as defined in Directive 074 on a cumulative basis no later than December 31, 2023 or other date approved by the Board to make up for the shortfall in fines capture for the period from startup to 2018.
  6. Imperial shall provide, with the annual Directive 074 Tailings Plan submission to the ERCB, a status report on the following:
    1. TSRU Tailings Treatment Development milestones and TSRU Tailings Treatment technology updates, and
    2. MFT Treatment Development Milestones and MFT Treatment Development technology updates.
  7. Imperial shall submit the fines measurement technique as per the definition of “Fines” from Appendix A of Directive 074 to the ERCB for approval by September 30, 2010 unless otherwise approved by the Board.
  8. Imperial shall formally notify the ERCB of pilot plants, field pilot tests and/or demonstration plants for all tailings technology development at least 6 months prior to construction and update the test reports annually by February 28 or as specified by the ERCB.
  9. Acronyms:

    TSRU: Tailings from Solvent Recovery Unit
    DDA: Dedicated Disposal Area
    MFT: Mature Fine Tailings
    ETA: External Tailings Area

    Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes
    • Directive 074 requires operators to:
      • Prepare tailings plans and report on tailings ponds annually,
      • Reduce the accumulation of tailings by capturing fine particles, that would otherwise remain suspended in tailings ponds, and placing them in a deposit that can be walked on and,
      • Specify dates for construction, use and closure of tailings ponds and file these dates with the ERCB by September 30, 2009.
    • The submission of the tailings plan is an annual requirement of Directive 074, which will allow the ERCB to continuously monitor tailings operations and provide a means to take enforcement action when necessary. Compliance with the two main Directive 074 criteria (fines capture and DDA strength) is to be measured by companies annually starting in 2011. Additional reporting is required on the fluid tailings content of each pond annually and is scheduled to be submitted along with the annual tailings plan to the ERCB by September 30 of each year.
    • The ERCB is attempting to allow oil sands operators sufficient time to design and construct necessary industrial facilities (some costing hundreds of millions of dollars) which take into account each project’s specific geological and technical requirements in order for them to comply with Directive 074 requirements.
    • All of the plans are available on the ERCB website at
    General Information
    • “Tailings” is a term used to describe waste from oil sands extraction processes. This waste is generally composed of water, sands, silt, clay and residual bitumen.
    • Tailings are discharged into large tailings ponds. The larger sand particles in the tailings settle to form a stable deposit very quickly, while the finer clay particles take years to settle and are known as fluid fine tailings. Research on ways to treat fluid fine tailings continues, with the goal of developing technology that will help the fine clays settle quicker or eliminate the need for storage ponds altogether.
    • In past applications, mineable oils sands operators proposed the conversion of fluid tailings into deposits that could be walked on and ready for reclamation. While operators have applied technologies to try and make this happen, they have not met the targets set out in their applications.
    • Alberta’s inventory of fluid fine tailings that require long term containment is now 840 million cubic metres. The ERCB estimates tailings ponds today are approximately 170 sq km.