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Suncor: Harnessing new technology to reduce water use and tailings volumes

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Using tailings water at an in situ oil sands facility may seem unorthodox, but that’s exactly what the Suncor In Situ Water Management Program (IWMP) team has set out to test.
Tailings water inventories is one of our industry’s main challenges. Suncor’s research teams work continuously to find innovative new ways to treat, reuse and reduce water to support reclamation and mine closure.

The Water Technology Development Centre (WTDC) is one site where Suncor can test new water technologies. Located at our Firebag in situ facility in northern Alberta, the centre was created under a partnership for Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). The WTDC is a first-of-its-kind demonstration site for COSIA partner companies to pilot water treatment technologies.

The IWMP project is using the centre to assess the viability of transferring tailings pond water from Suncor’s Base Plant for use at Firebag . If the project is deemed feasible, it would improve water availability at Firebag while reducing Suncor’s tailings inventories and freshwater consumption. Through COSIA, the technology could also be used by other oil sands operators to help accelerate improvement in environmental performance.

“It’s a win-win project for us,” says Basil Perdicakis, a technology advisor for the mining and upgrading team at Suncor. “Base Plant needs to reduce tailings inventory and Firebag needs water to run its facilities. It’s a win for our operations and for the environment.”

The centre was used to run trials using water samples from different tailings pond locations to answer questions around water systems at both sites and if it would be feasible to transfer tailings water for operational use. From January to May 2022, the WTDC team completed pilot tests of three samples of tailings water on a custom-designed warm lime softener pilot skid to support the IWMP project. The results were encouraging and are now being reviewed by the development team.

“For our team, having the centre available at a Suncor site has been invaluable,” says Lindsey Boida, Specialist Development Engineer for In Situ at Suncor. “We’re able to test and de-risk water technologies like this tailings water project on Firebag’s operation without impacting production.”

It’s an exciting project, and the first to see success using the Water Technology Development Centre. Suncor values the cooperation of the COSIA partners in allowing its teams to use the facility for the time required for a test of this scale. It demonstrates the value and capability of a facility like this, as well as providing hope for the success of similar projects in the future.

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