Suncor Energy has achieved an industry milestone, becoming the first oil sands company to complete surface reclamation of a tailings pond. The 220-ha site is located at Suncor’s oil sands mining operations north of Fort McMurray. Known as Pond 1, it was the company’s first storage pond for oil sands tailings when commercial production began in 1967.“We said we would be first to complete surface reclamation of a tailings pond and we have delivered on this important commitment,” said Rick George, President and CEO. “We know we still have a lot of work to do, but [this] achievement is a significant step towards reducing our environmental footprint related to our operations – something we can all be extremely proud of”.Suncor has renamed the area Wapisiw Lookout to pay tribute to the history of the region, and to honour its Aboriginal peoples.“We invested a great deal of time and resources to complete the surface reclamation of Wapisiw Lookout and we’ve also learned a great deal,” George added. “We’ll use this knowledge along with new and developing innovations to manage our tailings and speed up the reclamation of other existing tailings ponds. It’s an ongoing journey, but this is an important step and we’re well on our way”.In time, the company expects the land will become a productive forest and wetland. Over the next two decades, Suncor will maintain and closely monitor progress on the site, including the growth of 630,000 shrubs and trees planted in 2010. Ongoing soil, water and vegetation assessments will help ensure the site is on course for return to a sustainable landscape and self-sustaining ecosystem.Pond 1 was in operation for 40 years before being decommissioned in December 2006 and turned over for reclamation the following month. This process started with infilling the pond with 30 Mt of reclaimed tailings sand. Drainage systems and swales were then developed to manage water runoff from the pond. As these activities were completed, landscaping activities began, which involved placing 1.2 million m3 of topsoil over the surface, to a depth of 500 mm.Tailings technologies have advanced significantly since Suncor built Pond 1. Earlier this summer, Suncor received approval to implement new tailings management technology – called TROTM – across its existing operations. The company expects to invest more than $1 billion to implement the TRO technology over the next two years, potentially reducing tailings reclamation time by decades and speeding the return of oil sands mining sites to natural habitat.For more information about Wapisiw Lookout, including photos, a video and live webcam of the area, visit www.suncor.com/wapisiw.
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