More AER de-regulation? Toxic tarsands tailings lakes must be “ready to be reclaimed” within 10 years of mine life end does not mean must be reclaimed.

Tailings ponds and pipeline leaks keep heat on Alberta Energy Regulator by Chris Varcoe, July 16, 2016, Calgary Herald

Canada’s energy sector has several formidable issues to deal with, but two of the trickiest surround pipeline leaks and how to deal with tailings ponds in the oilsands. [Because they cost money companies refuse to spend?]

On Thursday, the Alberta Energy Regulator took a stab at tackling both hot potatoes. [By deregulating? Some stab.]

It put out new guidelines for how oilsands producers in northern Alberta should manage their tailings ponds. [“Should” is not a “must”]

Separately, it issued an advisory admonishing companies for faulty leak detection within their pipeline systems that handle oil well effluent and produced water; in some cases, leaks weren’t recognized for several days. [Admonishments will do nothing to diminish the devastation the oil and gas industry is wrecking on Alberta.]

Tailings ponds have been one of the biggest public relations problems for the sector, viewed as an eyesore in the Athabasca region and a potential threat to groundwater.

These man-made ponds contain byproduct created in the process of extracting tar-like bitumen from the sand. The province has 25 ponds covering about 220 square kilometres and the number is expected to keep growing.

In 2008, these pools — holding residual bitumen, water, sand and fine clays — became a lightning rod for criticism after 1,600 birds landed in Syncrude’s pond during a storm.

Images of oil-soaked ducks soon circulated around the world. It was one of several pivotal moments that focused attention on what the Alberta government was — and wasn’t — doing to oversee oilsands development.

The following year, the province’s energy regulator took a stab at tackling the issue with Directive 74, which initially required companies to lower the amount of fine particles going into liquid tailings by 20 per cent by 2011, and 50 per cent by 2013.

Within a few years, the ambitious plan fell apart.

The regulator said none of the six oilsands mines met the target, yet didn’t impose any penalties because the standards were deemed to be overly optimistic. Critics accused the government of caving in.

The AER’s [DE-REGULATED] Directive 85, which went into effect Thursday, replaces the old system and calls for a phased-in approach to the issue.

All fluid tailings must be “ready to reclaim” within a decade of an oilsands mine closing. [Fabulous loop-hole for the polluters. “Ready to” does not mean reclaimed or that the waste lakes will be reclaimed]

Instead of universal targets, operators must submit a tailings management plan with project-specific conditions. [Planning is not doing]

If approved, it will then be enforceable with financial penalties or even production cutbacks if tailings volumes increase. [When the mine is closed and no longer producing, what company will care? They’ll just walk out of Alberta and leave the un-reclaimed mess behind, as usual]

The AER says producers can’t wait until production has stopped before taking action. [By just submitting a plan?  Some action.] Finally the regulator will publish a report annually on the matter. [Lovely. How much pollution will the paper the report is written on soak up?]

For large oilsands producers like Suncor Energy, the new rules are seen as a comprehensive approach to a complex issue.

It “recognizes that each mine is different due to a number of factors including ore body, geography, how many years the mine has been operating and that it makes sense that each mine would have its own plan with targets,” [in reality, with which to avoid clean up] says Sneh Seetal of Suncor.

Terry Abel, director of oilsands for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says the new approach is less prescriptive than before [AKA DEREGULATION!  WHAT THE AER DOES BEST], and was established after consultations with First Nations, local communities, environmental groups and industry itself.

“The regulator and government and ourselves need to make sure the public sees what we are already doing and how serious we are taking this issue,” Abel added.

“Maybe that hasn’t always been as evident as it should be.”

Environmental groups believe the new rules are a work in progress. They applaud increased transparency but have lingering concerns until the guidelines are finalized next year.

With tailings still growing and past targets missed, it’s important Alberta finally gets it right, says the Pembina Institute’s Chris Severson-Baker. [BY DEREGULATING? SYNERGY MASTER EXTRAORDINAIRE ENABLES INDUSTRY’S POLLUTION AND HARMS YET AGAIN]

“What’s down on paper is good. But the pieces that haven’t been sorted out yet are the most critical pieces — surveillance, the monitoring and enforcement,” he says. [AER ENFORCE?  LIKE ON THE BENNY HILL SHOW?]

The issue of pipeline leaks is another potential headache for the sector.

The AER regulates about 420,000 kilometres of pipelines across the province used to transport oil, bitumen, natural gas, oil emulsion and salt and fresh water.

The regulator noted Thursday it has investigated 23 pipeline leaks in the past three years. In eight cases — fully one-third of them — improper leak detection was cited as a “significant contributing factor.”

It took 48 days on average to respond to and isolate the pipelines in these incidents, leaving one to wonder just how much more quickly the leaks could have been caught.

“Company personnel responsible for leak detection were not sufficiently trained or simply failed to recognize that a leak was occurring until several days after the leak had started,” the AER stated.

Clearly, this isn’t simply a perception problem.

One only need look at last July’s leak involving a Nexen Energy pipeline at its Long Lake project that led to about 31,000 barrels of emulsion — a mixture of water, sand and bitumen — spilling in the muskeg.

Nexen executives said this week their investigation found the rupture occurred June 11, but was not discovered until July 15, due to shortcomings in the pipeline’s automation leak-detection system.

It appears the eight leaks cited by the AER occurred in gathering systems, not in main transmission lines, CAPP notes. Many are small-diameter lines in remote areas, and operate with intermittent volumes going through them.

To reduce the potential for future ruptures, the AER said it’s recommending operators “increase their focus on pipeline systems monitoring and operator training.”


But as Alberta attempts to tackle these two intricate issues, it underscores a larger issue for the province.

A thoughtful approach with input from all sides, backed up with regulatory oversight and hard targets, is necessary.

But rather than wait for an issue to explode onto the front burner, Alberta needs to get ahead of these tricky regulatory matters in the first place. [Emphasis added]


Regulator says new rules will eliminate toxic oilsands tailings ponds by The Canadian Press, July 15, 2016, Calgary Herald

The Alberta Energy Regulator has introduced new rules that it says will ultimately remove unsightly and toxic tailings ponds from the oilsands mining region of northeastern Alberta.

CEO Jim Ellis says companies with tailings ponds will face new reporting and progressive reclamation requirements, with all ponds required to be ready to be reclaimed within 10 years of the end of a mine’s life. [The companies and their billions taken out in profits will be long gone by the end of mine life, never mind 10 years after end of mine life.]

The AER’s new directive replaces tailings ponds regulations, put in place in 2009, that industry claimed it couldn’t comply with. [COULDN’T OR WOULDN’T?] AER spokeswoman Tracie Moore says the earlier directive was suspended in March of 2015 and has now been rescinded.

Alberta Energy estimated oilsands mining projects had created about 220 square kilometres of tailings ponds by the end of 2013. The ponds are used to store water needed to separate heavy bitumen crude from sand and other impurities and contain water, silt, leftover bitumen and solvents. They have long been one of the industry’s toughest environmental challenges.

Under the new rules, operators are required to submit fluid tailings management applications to the AER by Nov. 1. The applications are to be reviewed over the winter and a second version of the directive, with updated surveillance and compliance processes, is to be finalized by next spring.

Ellis says the new directive is based on consultation with a committee made up of oilsands operators, First Nations, Metis communities, oilsands region municipal officials and environmental organizations.

Note to readers: Corrections Clarifies wording in para 2; “required to be ready to be reclaimed” [Emphasis added]

Issuance of Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects by The AER, July 14, 2016

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) announces the release of Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects,which sets out requirements for managing fluid tailings for oil sands mining projects. It outlines application requirements, the application review process, performance reporting, and the surveillance and compliance process.

A draft version of the directive was released for feedback on September 17, 2015, and the feedback period closed on November 17, 2015. The AER also established a technical advisory committee (TAC) to review and provide comments on the draft directive. It was made up of representatives from industry, environmental nongovernmental organizations, First Nations, Métis, municipalities, and the AER. The directive has been updated to reflect input from the TAC and the public. A summary of the feedback and the AER response is available on the directive’s webpage.

This directive replaces Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes, aligns with the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP), and implements the Lower Athabasca Region: Tailings Management Framework for the Mineable Athabasca Oil Sands (TMF).

The new directive represents an outcomes- and risk-based approach that holds operators accountable for managing their fluid tailings. [WITH MONEY TO BE PAID UPFRONT OR AS THE COMPANIES TAKE THEIR BILLIONS IN PROFIT?] The directive will be revisited and a new edition published in 2017. Key requirements include the following:

Existing operators are required to submit fluid tailing management applications by November 1, 2016.

Operators must minimize fluid tailings accumulation by ensuring that fluid tailings are treated and reclaimed progressively during the life of the project.

New fluid tailings must be ready to reclaim by ten years after the end of mine life, while legacy fluid tailings must be ready to reclaim by the end of mine life.

Operators will report annually on the performance of their fluid tailings management plans.

The AER will prepare an annual performance report on fluid tailings management.
Directive 085 is available on the AER website, Printed copies of the directive can be purchased from AER Order Fulfillment, Suite 1000, 250 – 5 Street SW, Calgary, Alberta T2P 0R4; telephone: 403-297-8311 or 1-855-297-8311 (toll free; option 2); fax: 403-297-7040; e-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required. [Emphasis added]

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Cal Hill
Executive Vice President
Strategy & Regulatory Division

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