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Oil Sands Tailings Ponds

In oil sands mining, the extraction of bitumen produces by-products known as oil sands tailings, which are a mixture of sand, water, clay, salts, and acids.

The accumulation of these poses a significant environmental challenge. To mitigate this, tailings ponds that feature a dam and dyke system are used to store them.

Tailings ponds also allow water to separate from the rest of the compounds. This water is then recycled for use in oil sands mining, minimising the amount of freshwater from nearby sources that would otherwise be needed for the extraction process.

Key fact: Oil sands mining operators recycle around 75% of water used

The reclamation of tailings ponds is crucial to environmental sustainability. Tailings ponds contain numerous toxic chemicals that threaten aquatic life and animals by seeping into the surrounding soil.

The large volume of oil sands tailings produced by bitumen extraction means the size of ponds can also be problematic as they compromise wildlife habitats. This is why operators must comply with strict reclamation and closure plans for tailings ponds.

Key fact: For every barrel of bitumen extracted from oil sands, approximately 1.5 barrels of tailings are produced

Benefits

  • Contains toxic compounds

  • Enables recycling of water

  • Monitored extensively

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