What are Tailings?

oil sands tailings innovation research

You may have heard of tailings, but where do they come from? How do they get to tailings ponds? And what happens to them after that? Let’s start with the facts.

Tailings may seem a mystery, but they are a common part of mining operations around the world. Tailings are the leftover materials from mining, whether that’s mining for gold, tungsten, coal or oil. In Alberta, just three percent of the oil sands are accessible for mining and while mining activities are sometimes erroneously thought to take up an area the size of the UK, the actual mining footprint in northeastern Alberta is about equivalent in size to the city of Edmonton.

The remaining 97 per cent of bitumen located in the oil sands is too deep to be mined and is extracted by drilling in place, a process called in situ.

Whether mining or in situ, all oil sand operations in Alberta are required by law to be returned to a natural habitat. Land reclamation has become an exacting science and one that COSIA members not only excel at but get better at every year.

Did you know? Oil sands operators have planted more than eight million trees as part of their reclamation efforts. And that’s in addition to working to preserve caribou habitat, rigorously monitoring wildlife and using water wisely. The oil sands industry has a very good record of minimizing the amount of water it uses. In mining, 80 to 85 per cent of water is recycled; in in situ extraction, the typical recycle rate is 90 per cent. It’s all part of the industry’s commitment to being good environmental stewards.

Find out more about oil sands tailings from start to finish. 

Interested in knowing more? Check out Tailings 101.

Read more stories like these:
•    Wastewater to Clean Water
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Innovators, you may be interested in taking up our clay challenge. How can we change or modify the way clays in the oil sands behave to better treat fluid tailings and speed up the reclamation process? If you think your research or technology could provide a commercial solution, we want to hear from you.

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