Shell starts-up commercial-scale tailings field demonstration

Source: Shell Canada

Shell Canada announced start-up of its commercial-scale Atmospheric Fines Drying field demonstration for managing tailings from its oil sands operations. 

“Throughout our industry we all recognize the need to improve our management of the tailings that result from oil sands operations,” said John Abbott, Executive Vice President, for Shell’s Heavy Oil business. “The challenge is to develop and apply technologies that will accelerate the pace at which tailings can be reclaimed and this demonstration project is a step forward in meeting this challenge.” 

Shell is working with a number of others in the industry and with research institutes to advance this, and other technologies, as fast as practical. 

“The issue is not whether we, as an industry, can reclaim tailings,” continued Abbott, “the issue is whether we can do it better and do it faster. We believe that working with others is key towards developing solutions that will allow us to accelerate the pace of reclamation and meet the expectations of the ERCB’s Directive-074. We are actively working to promote broader industry collaboration in this area and Shell will openly share the outcome of this demonstration project with industry players, academia, regulators and others interested in working on tailings solutions.” 

Shell received ERCB approval for operation of the Atmospheric Fines Drying project on August 6, 2010. The demonstration project is located at Shell’s Muskeg River Mine. The facility occupies over 0.3 square kilometers (75 acres). The demonstration project is expected to deliver a final deposit of some 250,000 tonnes.
Atmospheric Fines Drying was initially tested at Shell’s tailings pilot plant at the Muskeg River Mine and this commercial-scale demonstration is the next stage of development for this innovative technology. It is hoped this project will demonstrate the ability of Atmospheric Fines Drying to be one of a number of technologies we, as an industry, bring to bear on the tailings challenge. 

Atmospheric Fines Drying involves using a large barge to collect mature fine tailings (MFT) from the tailings pond and transfer them to the drying area. The mature fine tailings are then mixed with flocculants – chemical agents which help bring the fine clay particles in the MFT together – and placed on a sloped surface to help speed up the release of water from the clay. The released water runs down the sloped surface to a collection area and is returned to the external tailings facility for reuse in the extraction process. What remains are deposits that are further dried to meet strength and reclamation requirements. 

Atmospheric Fines Drying could be applied to tailings from both Shell’s current Muskeg River Mine and future Jackpine Mine operations. 

Shell Canada Energy is 60% owner with Chevron Canada Limited (20%) and Marathon Oil Sands L.P. (20%) of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP), including the Muskeg River Mine and Scotford Upgrader, with a capacity of 155,000 barrels per day.



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