Directive 074-FAQs

Tailings Performance Criteria Initiative - FAQs

Question: Why is this directive needed?
Fluid tailings volumes are large and growing. Operators have applied for tailings structures beyond existing applications. Monitoring tailings performance with applicable enforcement actions will ensure that tailings are well managed and thereby reduce requirements for additional tailings storage capacity. The directive is the first step towards a larger initiative to deliver tailings performance criteria for tailings operations and reclamation.

Question: What is the objective of the tailings directive?
The directive focuses on the reduction of fluid tailings volumes and the formation of trafficable deposits ready for reclamation.

Question: Who does this directive apply to?
It applies to all existing, approved, and future oil sands operators.

Question: What are the actions required to comply with the tailings directive?
The directive specifies performance criteria for the reduction of fluid tailings and the formation of trafficable deposits.

Operators are required to submit to the ERCB plans for dedicated disposal areas (DDAs), annual compliance reports for DDAs, annual tailings plans, and pond status reports.

Question: What was the consultation process for the tailings directive?
The draft tailings directive was released on June 26, 2008, to the public and industry. Input was requested by September 15, 2008. In April 2008, prior to the formal release of the draft directive, the ERCB also consulted with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and individual oil sands operators. In August, CAPP requested an industry workshop to gain clarity regarding various elements of the directive. The ERCB conducted two workshops. The first was held on September 9, 2008. ERCB, Alberta Environment (AENV), Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD), and the Department of Energy (DOE) staff met with representatives of industry to discuss project-specific concerns and technical issues.

The second workshop was held on September 24, 2008, to collect information and hear concerns. Attendees included interested First Nations, ERCB, AENV, SRD and DOE staff, and industry representatives. The draft directive was also posted to the ERCB Web site. Letters on the directive were received from individuals and industry. The notes from the workshops, assessments of workshop input and letters, and the public workshop presentation are posted on the ERCB Web site. One-on-one meetings with the ERCB are still available upon request.

Question: Is the directive fair across the industry?
Yes. The directive states the end objective, while allowing the operator to choose the technology to achieve the performance criteria. The goal is to minimize fluid tailings and their long-term storage.

The ERCB recognizes that fluid tailings management is developing and that operators may need flexibility to apply technologies and techniques that best suit the circumstances of particular projects.

Question: Will amendments to existing approvals be required due to the implementation of this directive?
Yes. Operators will be required to make submissions to the ERCB to comply with the directive. The directive is a regulatory requirement that is applicable to all existing, approved, and future operations. Approvals will be conditioned respecting project-specific timelines for tailings structures and performance criteria.

Question: How will enforcement occur in the event of noncompliance?
Tailings directive requirements will be enforced in accordance with Directive 019: ERCB Compliance Assurance-Enforcement.

Question: What is the jurisdiction of the ERCB with respect to tailings management?
The ERCB regulates oil sands schemes from start-up to abandonment. The ERCB will make changes to the Oil Sands Conservation Regulations that relate to the tailings directive.

Question: What is the coordinated review process involving input from SRD and AENV?
In addition to the ERCB, AENV and SRD also regulate oil sands development. An operator's DDA plan will be subject to coordinated review by the ERCB, AENV, and SRD, and approved by the ERCB.

Question: How will the associated water issues regarding storage and recycling of process-affected water, water discharge, and reduction of fresh water import be handled?
Water issues are complex. Water allocation and water discharge (to surface) are regulated by AENV. The ERCB regulates subsurface disposal and works with AENV on water use and recycling. Development of standards is a complex task that requires a great deal of input.

Question: Will end pit lakes (EPLs) be authorized as a means to dispose of tailings at the end of mine life?
The ERCB has approved proposals for water capping of mature fine tailings (MFT) in EPLs subject to it being successfully demonstrated. Although first proposed and conditionally approved in 1993, this demonstration has not been done.

The tailings directive will require operators to use DDAs to consume a specified amount of tailings. A DDA is an area dedicated solely to the deposition of captured fines using a technology or a suite of technologies. The material deposited each year must achieve a minimum undrained shear strength of 5 kPa within one year of deposition and 10 kPa five years after the DDA is closed.

Question: Can MFT be reclaimed in an acceptable timeframe?
MFT has not been proven to be reclaimable to a solid landscape in an acceptable timeframe. Long-term containment of fluid tailings/MFT is undesirable. The directive requires a specified amount of fluid tailings to be converted to a solid form. Existing MFT volumes are not specifically addressed in the directive.

Question: Will fluid tailings combinations be permitted in the DDA?
Long-term storage of fluid tailings combinations in a section of the DDA may not result in solid deposits and would be difficult to regulate. Therefore it is not permitted. The DDA may be divided into sections for the application of different technologies, provided that the minimum undrained shear strength of 5 kPa is achieved for the material deposited in the previous year.

Question: Will a 3- or 5-year average be acceptable for meeting tailings performance criteria?
Depending on the project-specific issues and constraints, an average may be acceptable and may be considered on a project-specific basis. This approach is not encouraged.

Question: Are the key terms in this directive defined?
Yes. The key terms are in Appendix A of the directive.

Question: How does the ERCB justify the increased regulatory workload required by industry?
New regulations are necessary to effectively regulate tailings operations. Regulation to uniform performance criteria that have enforceable consequences will ensure that operator commitments and ERCB requirements are met. The additional information is essential to hold operators accountable and to monitor the effectiveness of the directive. Modifications may be made as necessary, based on operator performance.

Question: Will the new reports that are required by this directive be available to the public?
Yes. The ERCB will consider posting reports on line to make them more readily accessible.

Question: Why didn't the ERCB do this sooner, before tailings became this large an issue?
In late 2003 and early 2004, ERCB and Joint Panel decisions on mineable oil sands applications recommended the development of tailings performance criteria. In early 2006, the ERCB directed staff to make recommendations on performance criteria with specific enforcement actions by March 2008. Concerns about tailings performance at mineable oil sands operations and tailings proposals in applications before the Board and joint panels led to the recommendation.

Question: Will additional workshops be held in the future?
Yes. Additional workshops and one-on-one sessions are planned with industry and stakeholders to address outstanding questions, refine measurement and reporting, and consider project-specific compliance issues.

Question: What else is the ERCB doing with regulation of the oil sands?
The ERCB has changed the structure of its organization to deal with the oil sands, and over the last three years it has embarked on an evolution of its regulations pertaining to the oil sands.

In December 2007, the ERCB signed a memorandum of understanding with Alberta Environment to coordinate groundwater protection efforts in a number of areas, such as oil sands thermal and mining operations.

Early in 2008, the ERCB began a major update of its oil sands inspection process for mining and processing plant operations. A new ERCB inspection directive sets out a more proactive approach with clearer expectations for industry and the public.

The ERCB plans on doubling the number of inspections in the area's oil sands mine sites in the coming year. Inspectors from the ERCB's Fort McMurray Regional Office will conduct these updated surveillance activities.

The ERCB is also working under and enforcing Directive 042: Measurement, Accounting, and Reporting Plan (MARP) Requirement for Thermal Bitumen Schemes, which is an evolution of measurement, accounting, and reporting requirements for thermal bitumen schemes.

Question: What are future plans for tailings management? Is this directive final, or will the ERCB look into more and different ways to regulate tailings management?
The ERCB plans to establish criteria that are achievable. The tailings directive is the first step in tailings regulation for the mineable oil sands industry. The ERCB will assess the effectiveness of the directive and consider the need for revisions or additional requirements. The ERCB will continue to look to improve and evolve the regulation of tailings operations.