Alberta's Tailings Management Framework


Alberta's Tailings Management Framework

Alberta’s Tailings Management Framework 

On March 13, 2015, the Government of Alberta released the Lower Athabasca Region: Tailings Management Framework for Mineable Athabasca Oil Sands (TMF). As a result, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) suspended Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes and developed new requirements for tailings management, including a new directive.

The TMF gives both the AER and industry objectives on how to manage existing and new fluid tailings volumes and represents an evolution in how industry, the AER, and government manage tailings accumulation and risk—promoting innovation to ensure fluid tailings volumes are appropriately managed from the start.

The main objective of the TMF is to minimize fluid tailings accumulation by ensuring that fluid tailings are treated and reclaimed during the life of a project. All fluid tailings associated with a project should be ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end of mine life.

New Requirements… A New Directive 

On July 14, 2016, we announced the release of Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects, setting out new application and performance reporting requirements to manage fluid tailings in Alberta’s mineable oil sands.

This directive required oil sands mining companies to submit a tailings management plan to the AER for approval. We are currently reviewing each tailings management plan and will make them available when a decision on each plan has been made. After a company’s tailings management plan has been approved, it must report annually on its performance in managing fluid tailings.

In October 2017, we released an updated version of Directive 085 to include performance evaluation, compliance, and enforcement information. The updated version clarifies our approach to managing fluid tailings and does not change any requirements.

All along, our approach to managing fluid tailings has included evaluating company performance, conducting regular inspections and audits, and enforcing on any noncompliance. Our approach

  • considers the net environmental effect of tailings management, considering consequences to air, land, land use, water, and the ecosystem;
  • is enforceable;
  • manages both new and existing (legacy) tailings;
  • provides clarity and certainty to stakeholders; and
  • requires progressive reclamation.

Tailings management performance will use four compliance levels:

  • Level 1: projects are operating in line with their approved tailings profile
  • Level 2: conditions indicate an increasing level of risk associated with increasing volume of fluid tailings at a project
  • Level 3: the volume of tailings has exceeded the volume that would be possible to get ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end of mine life
  • Level 4: the total volume limit of fluid tailings for the project has been exceeded

Directive 074 measured operators’ tailings reduction performance with one requirement: the strength of their mature fine tailings. The TMF and the new directive use the overall volume of fluid tailings to track reduction. The TMF also provides direction on reclaiming the land throughout the life of the mine and requires additional monitoring and reporting.

Implementing Feedback on the New Requirements 

Developing any new requirement is a process that takes a great deal of time, technical resources, and input from all stakeholders.

For the first time last year, we used a multistakeholder committee to build these new requirements. The committee, which included representation from oil sands mining operators, First Nations, Metis, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and environmental organizations, worked with the AER to create requirements that will address tailings growth today and in the years ahead.

To view the feedback we received in 2015 when creating the new requirements, see Tailings Regulatory Management Initiative - Engagement Summary.

Rules and Regulations for Oil Sands 

The AER is responsible for the administration of the Oil Sands Conservation Act, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), and the Water Act (all found in our Acts & Regulations section of the website), which regulate oil sands development.

We have strong rules in place to ensure public safety and environmental protection during the oil sands mining, extraction, and upgrading processes.

For information about the way that the AER regulates oil sands development, see Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects