Construction completed at Syncrude’s commercial water release project

Syncrude has wrapped up the construction of its demonstration water release project at Mildred Lake.

Similar to a home water filter using activated carbon, the project uses petroleum coke sourced from the fluid cokers in Syncrude’s upgrader to treat process water from our tailings facilities. That removes suspended solids such as clays, hydrocarbons and dissolved organic compounds, including naphthenic acids.

Syncrude has researched the technology for 14 years, which included a smaller field pilot. Construction on the commercial project began in 2017. Syncrude contracted The Boucher Group – one of the region’s leading Indigenous companies – to complete civil work on the project.

“It takes a lot of outside-the-box thinking to create something that’s never been done before,” says Senior Engineering Associate Warren Zubot, who has led the research on the technology. “It is even more impressive to see solutions found for every challenge faced while we’ve scaled up this project.”

The project uses a giant filtration cell – measuring 465 metres long by 150 metres wide and 5.5 metres deep – to treat the process water using the petroleum coke. 

The treated water is pumped to a second pond, where samples are taken to confirm it is safe for release. Both ponds are lined with a 50-millimetre thick geomembrance to prevent any losses of water.

“It takes time to get things right,” says Warren. “I’m excited to see the full potential of this project and how it will make a difference. As an oil sands company, we need to clean up our process water to make sure it can be safely released to ensure protection of downstream uses.”

Warren and his team conducted some initial tests of treated water following the completion of construction and will resume testing and monitoring in the spring. The closed-circuit testing will provide additional insight to confirm the quality of the treated water is suitable for return to the Athabasca River. Regulatory approval would still be required for any release. Syncrude is working with the federal and provincial governments on monitoring programs as well as consulting with local communities.

“This technology and the work being undertaken by Syncrude is going to change the face of tailings in our region,” says Nicole Bourque-Bouchier, CEO of The Bouchier Group. “We’re proud to provide Syncrude with a local perspective as we undertake all the construction work for the project.”

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