Alberta's Tailings Management Framework


Alberta's Tailings Management Framework

On March 13, 2015, the Government of Alberta released the Lower Athabasca Region: Tailings Management Framework for Mineable Athabasca Oil Sands (TMF). As a result, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) suspended Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes and developed new requirements for tailings management, including a new directive.

The TMF gives both the AER and industry objectives on how to manage existing and new fluid tailings volumes and represents an evolution in how industry, the AER, and government manage tailings accumulation and risk—promoting innovation to ensure fluid tailings volumes are appropriately managed from the start.

The main objective of the TMF is to minimize fluid tailings accumulation by ensuring that fluid tailings are treated and reclaimed during the life of a project. All fluid tailings associated with a project should be ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end of mine life. Performance-monitoring requirements will be put in place to keep industry on track and will ensure that those results are clearly reported to Albertans.

New Requirements… A New Directive

The Government of Alberta released the TMF on March 13, 2015. In response, the AER suspended Directive 074 while the new requirements were developed.

On July 14, 2016, the AER announced the release of Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects, which sets out the new application and performance reporting requirements for fluid tailings volume, and management plans are part of a phased approach to implementing the TMF.

With these new rules now in place, the AER has rescinded Directive 074.

The new directive represents an evolution in how industry, the regulator, and government will manage tailings by addressing both existing fluid tailings and new fluid tailings growth.

Surveillance requirements and enforcement measures will be included in the 2016 edition of the directive.

The directive holds operators accountable for their fluid tailings as opposed to instituting universal requirements. 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 increasing volume 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

Directive 074 measured operators’ tailings reduction performance with one requirement: the strength of their mature fine tailings. The 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.

What’s Next?

The AER has an aggressive timeline to implement this new directive.

  • 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 Phase 2 of Directive 085 with updated surveillance and compliance processes for stakeholder feedback
  • Spring 2017: Finalize version 2 of Directive 085

Implementing Feedback on the New Requirements

Developing any new requirement is a process that takes a great deal of time, technical resources, and input from all stakeholders.

Stakeholder input played and will continue to play an important role in the development of these new requirements.

The AER used a multistakeholder committee for the first time to build these new requirements.

The committee, which included representation from oil sands mining operators, First Nations, Metis, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and environmental organizations, worked with the AER to create requirements that will address tailings growth today and in the years ahead. For more information on the feedback the AER received when creating the new requirements, see the link below:
Tailings Regulatory Management Initiative - Engagement Summary

Rules and Regulations for Oil Sands

The AER is responsible for the administration of the Oil Sands Conservation Act, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), and the Water Act (all found in our Acts & Regulations section of the website), which regulate oil sands development.

We have strong rules in place to ensure public safety and environmental protection during the oil sands mining, extraction, and upgrading processes.

For information about the way that the AER regulates oil sands development, see the link below:
Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects