Syncrude Canada runs $20 million research centre in Edmonton
Today’s discoveries may have lost their anecdotal appeal, but researchers continue to break new ground
Centrifuging, the third area of tailings research, gets the water out of the tailings faster, Robb says. But it’s costly. “We did a pilot on that. Even when you spin the water out, it’s not a dense material right away. It’s still mud. We spent a year monitoring how long it would take to harden up so you could drive on it. We drove on it in September 2009. So we’re just looking at incorporating that technology into our tailings management plan.”
Nothing is off the table and Syncrude isn’t trying to marry one kind of tailings technology, Robb says. “We’re not relying on one technology for our tailings management. These are the three main ones we’re looking at.”
The complementary research to land reclamation and the flora to be put into place is related to the fauna that will live there. “In the reclaimed areas we have already, the wildlife has come back on its own. We have to monitor to make sure the wildlife that was there before has come back.”
Beavers receive special attention. “We did a separate study on beavers. Because they’re one of the first animals to come back into the area, we wanted to understand how they operate,” Robb reports.
“We shape the land so that it’s stable and won’t erode. We didn’t want beavers to go into an area and dam up a creek or stream and cause instability in the landscape. But we wanted to accommodate beavers because they are native to the region. We did the study on beavers so we could understand their behavior and build our land forms and reclaimed areas to accommodate them, but in a way that also makes sure they wouldn’t destroy areas we needed them not to destroy.”
The scientists who did the study visited 70 beaver dams and 29 lake outlets. They cataloged 784 beaver dams from photographs and reviewed more than 350 books on beaver behavior. “So when you look at one aspect of our reclamation and how much effort went into that, to me it speaks volumes,” Robb says.
When her tour moves on to research being done into making extraction technology more efficient, she pauses before a cabinet the size of a small cube van. “We might be far enough along with this to talk about it a bit,” she says.
The cabinet contains tubes, pipes and other paraphernalia representing a new direction of separation research using gravity alone, rather than centrifuging. Centrifuging, after all, takes a lot of energy and costs money. Gravity is free.