Shell starts commercial-scale tailings field demonstration

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Aug. 27
-- Shell Canada Energy has commenced its commercial-scale atmospheric fines drying field demonstration for managing tailings from its Muskeg River bitumen mine in the Athabasca area of northern Alberta.

Shell describes atmospheric fines drying as involving the use of a large barge to collect mature fine tailings (MFT) from its tailings pond and then transferring the MFT to a drying area. In the process, it adds flocculants to help bring the fine clay particles in the MFT together before placing the fines on a sloped surface to help speed the release of water from the clay. The released water runs down the sloped surface to a collection area. The company can reuse the collected water in its operations. It dries the remaining deposits further to meet strength and reclamation requirements.

Shell received approval from Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) for the atmospheric fines drying project on Aug. 6.

The company expects the demonstration project to deposit a total of about 250,000 tonnes of fines. Its tailings pond at the Muskeg River mine has an area of about 14 sq km.

“We have been very active in tailings research since we began our operations and believe atmospheric fines drying technology could result in a fine tailings deposit, which releases water and gains strength in weeks rather than decades,” said John Abbott, executive vice-president for Shell’s heavy oil business.

“The issue is not whether we, as an industry, can reclaim tailings,” continued Abbott, “the issue is whether we can do it better and do it faster.”

Shell is working with others in the industry and with research institutes to advance this and other technologies so that it can meet ERCB’s Directive-074.

Shell said that it “will openly share the outcome of this demonstration project with industry players, academia, regulators and others interested in working on tailings solutions.”

The Muskeg River mine and Scotford upgrader are part of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP) that currently has a 155,000 b/d bitumen production capacity. Shell Canada Energy is the operator and 60% owner of AOSP. Its partners are Chevron Canada Ltd. 20% and Marathon Oil Sands LP 20%.

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