Syncrude oilsands tailings pond, Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada

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Courtesy of Presto Geosystems

Syncrude Canada produces a large part of Canada's crude oil supply. The company processes about 225,000 bbl/day. The oil produced is used for jet and automobile fuel, home heating oil, plastics and other consumer synthetics. Crude oil is produced through a process of mining, extracting and upgrading bitumen. A rich supply of bitumen is contained in the Athabasca oil sands deposit in northern Alberta. Tailings from the bitumen processing are sent to a settling basin.

Project overview

In December 1998, at Syncrude's oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, an external sump area was designed to contain the tailings and function as an emergency sump pit. A large amount of water is required for the containment. So the tailings are processed to take out the suspended solids found in the water. A geosynthetic protection system was required to protect the slopes and floor from the water, prevent contamination of the surrounding area and withstand heavy equipment.

In case of a power failure in the main building, the containment pond is equipped to handle all of the tailings material that is diverted to the sump area.

The external sump area is about 38- x 38- x 2.6-m deep (125- x 125- x 8.5-ft deep) with 0.9-m (3-ft) hori-zontal to 0.3-m (1-ft) vertical side slopes.

The requirements for the con-tainment pond's erosion-protection system were complicated because a 276-kN (65,000-1b) wheel loader must clean the sump area. Another challenge at the project was tem-peratures that reached as low as -10° to -15° C (14° to 5° F).

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