Advancing Cleantech in the Oil Sands: COSIA's 100 Research Projects

advancing clean tech oil sands COSIA SAGD Alberta Canada

Oilsands SAGD Operation

If these 100 research reports highlighting Canadian oilsands producers' efforts to reduce environmental impacts aren't indicative of why Canada should be a global oil and gas supplier of choice, then we aren't sure what is.

Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) has gradually released a collection of reports thus far in 2021 summarizing 100 research projects related to land, water and tailings, the findings of which will play an instrumental role in advancing cleantech in the industry.

Of the four reports, two focus on in-situ and mining operations, with the others examining water usage and tailings management. Each project details the research provider, participating companies and lessons learned from the experiments conducted therein that will help Canadian oil and gas producers continue to improve environmental performance over the next several years.

The land research report, for example, summarizes findings related to reclamation, revegetation and environmental research and monitoring.

"COSIA members work to advance a range of different innovations around land management projects, like the competition we launched earlier this year seeking technologies that reduce the impact of oil sands seismic activities," said Jack O'Neill, Land Director at COSIA. "The initiative is part of our multi-year woodland caribou research and conservation efforts."

The water research report lists several projects that aim to reduce impacts from oil sands mining operations on the regional watershed.

One mine research provider, for example, developed an electrochemical technology for the on-site conversion of saline wastewater into desalinated water and value-added chemicals. Dewatering of the basal McMurray aquifer is a critical component of every oil sands mining operation. At the mine under examination, the basal groundwater is too saline (saturated with salt) to be released into the environment and/or used in the bitumen extraction process, limiting disposal options. Therefore, the development of this technology helped the oil sands operator achieve its target concentration of chemicals and treated water salinity while providing an alternative method of brine management.

John Brogly, COSIA’s Director of Water stresses the importance of researching new methods to reclaim pit lakes.

“A key area of focus in our research is pit lakes. In fact, pit lakes planned for the oil sands mining sector are the most thoroughly researched pit lakes on earth with testing done on different scales, ranging from the size of a small swimming pool to an area of eight sq. kilometres," says Brogly.

COSIA's number one priority is to mitigate environmental impacts resulting from the production of oil sands through collaborative action and innovation. The 100 research projects outlined in the reports below are a great example of Canada's continued world-class leadership in improving the environmental performance of its energy sector.

Here are just a few of the 'lessons learned' from COSIA's extensive list of research projects underway. The reports are published online for all to see, including academics and innovators who may also be working on new environmental innovations and technologies (links below).

Note: please read the report in full to understand the full scope of these highlights

Mine Research Report – April 2021

Evaluating the Success of Fen Creation (Phase II) - Utilizing salvaged upland forest soil of greater quality will lead to the faster establishment of denser canopy covers.

Peatland Reclamation Markets of Success - Water salinity is a key driver of vegetation community composition, and understanding thresholds for plant performance can guide operational wetland reclamation decisions and end land use target development.

NSERC - Industrial Research Chair in Forest Land Reclamation - Targeted fertilization of forest reclamation sites several years after establishment could be an option to improve the efficacy of nutrient uptake while generating cost savings.

In-Situ Research Report – March 2021

Removing the Wellsite Footprint (iFROG) - Initial vegetation establishment on the reclaimed surfaces (roads used to access in-situ well sites) indicates that inoculation with moss fragments from suitable donor sites is an effective tool for revegetating wetland reclamation surfaces.

Interim Reclamation - Creating surface heterogeneity can have a stimulating effect on native plant regeneration. In addition, declining dominance of noxious weeds on this study site continue to be observed, further supporting the idea that allowing for natural processes and vegetation dynamics to occur without human interventions may be a viable and certainly a more cost-effective strategy to reforestation of sites such as these.

Faster Forests
- COSIA's 'Faster Forests' program results in forests on various research sites establishing faster than letting the sites revegetate on their own.

Water Mining Research Report – June 2021

Mining Depressurization Water Treatment to Create Acid and Caustic - A new electrochemical technology developed as part of the research project can help operators achieve target concentration for chemicals and treated water salinity, providing alternative methods to existing brine water management options.

Development of a Passive Sampler-Based Framework for Derivation of Water Quality Benchmarks for Oil Sands Process-Affected Water - The methods developed within this research project could serve as a rapid, cost-effective and convenient analytical screening tool for estimating the toxicity of raw and treated oil sands process water OSPW, and under the right conditions, characterize relative contributions from hydrocarbons and organic acids.

In Situ Pit Lake Treatment - Over the 24 years of study, it is evident that pit lakes can be used simultaneously as water storage facilities, bioreactors, and fisheries. In-pit passive water treatment may benefit other pit lake water quality and provide stored water use options for the operators' end land use plan

Tailings Research Report – August 2021

Optimizing the Usage of Lumbriculus variegatus – The results of the project show that Oligochaete worms improve dewatering properties of oil sands tailings in a laboratory environment to a very competitive range.

Treating Mature Fine Tailings Using Environmentally Safe Engineered Bacteria – Broadly speaking, these results demonstrate the validity of biopolymeric treatment of mature fine tailings, and their potential as environmentally safe, scalable, self-replicating alternatives to conventional synthetic organic polymers.

Combining Worms and Vegetation to Enhance Tailings Dewatering - The Carex aquatilis and Salix interior plants studied in this project have been shown to thrive in oil sands tailings, especially in the larger barrels. This observation reinforces the hypothesis that plants are a environmentally friendly contributor to tailings remediation, and warrants further research at larger scale over longer growth cycles

COSIA Leads the Way in Cleantech & Innovation

COSIA is a unique collaboration between competing Canadian oil and gas producers committed to accelerating the industry's environmental performance by sharing resources, expertise, technologies and even sometimes intellectual property. As a result, COSIA plays a significant role in Canada's world-class rankings on several Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) indexes that show Canadian oil and gas companies are some the most sustainable and responsible producers on the planet.

COSIA's various initiatives, such as the 100 ongoing and completed research projects mentioned above, serve as a best-in-class example of an industry dedicated to improving its environmental footprint through cleantech and innovation.

As long as the world needs oil, it should come from responsible producers like Canada who are already transitioning to a cleaner energy future through continued research and development, and unprecedented commitments to reach net zero by 2050.

Let's support sustainably produced Canadian oil and gas! What is good for Canadian oil and gas families is also good for the global environment after all!

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