It’s a “retirement” nearly 10 years in the making after almost 40 years of service. And it marks a significant milestone for Syncrude and the oil sands industry.

Syncrude has submitted the closure completion report for Coke Cell 5 (CC5) to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). Once accepted, Syncrude will remove CC5 from its list of dams.

“These dams are regulated by the AER because they retain fluids and tailings,” says Glen Miller, an Associate Geotechnical Engineer, Regulatory & Lease Development. “We have about 20 fluid-retaining structures on the AER’s registry. Once they are no longer required, we design and implement our closure plan then apply to remove them.”

What will make CC5 different than other dams in the oil sands is it’s the first-ever tailings facility reconfigured into a permanent, reclaimed landform that will be de-registered.

“We’ve had other dams de-registered, but they were in-pit structures submerged under water or tailings,” Glen says. “We are not burying CC5. We’ve physically modified it so it can be regulated in the same way as an inactive overburden dump. It is already revegetated and will eventually be ready to achieve a reclamation certificate, just like Gateway Hill.”

Construction began in 1985 on CC5, a ring dyke built with overburden to hold petroleum coke hydraulically poured into it. Syncrude completed the infilling of coke in late 1999. Ten years later, the AER approved Syncrude’s detailed closure plan showing the modifications required to close CC5, which covers an area of 170 hectares on the north shore of Base Mine Lake.

“After getting approval of our detailed closure plan, it took four years to complete the work, which included the excavation of an outlet in CC5’s southwest corner and recontouring a plateau into a shallow valley that drains environmental runoff towards that outlet,” Glen says. “We submitted the closure completion report in December 2020 and held a thorough field tour of CC5 with the person reviewing the submission for the AER in June. Now we’re just waiting to hear back from the AER soon and are very excited. This will be a significant milestone for Syncrude and for the industry.”

While many people were involved in the shepherding of CC5 towards this historic milestone, Glen singled out a couple key contributors.

“Wayne Mimura, who oversaw each step of this submission, from initial development to final review, as Senior Geotechnical Advisor and Engineer of Record for CC5. And Jack Law, as the Regulatory Affairs Advisor responsible for CC5, served as the point person with the AER and guided the submission’s scope,” Glen says.

As with many of successes here at Syncrude, collaboration helped fuel the success.

– Glen Miller

And Glen, who serves as Syncrude’s closure designer, expects to see the closure of tailings facilities become the norm in the coming decade.

“Folks should look forward to seeing this become routine. We’ve got a few in progress at Aurora and Mildred Lake sites. The East In-Pit detailed closure plan was submitted to AER this past June and we are currently in the process of developing a similar submission for South West In-Pit and then Base Mine Lake is next. To see these closure and reclamation projects accelerate in the areas where we first starting mining in the 1970s, it’s really rewarding to be a part of the final chapters that conclude our use of this land.”

From a mine pit to a tailings pond to an industry-first commercial demonstration of a pit lake, Base Mine Lake has gone through a series of changes over the years.

And much of the monitoring and research by scientists have charted the progress within the lake, right down to the tiny microbial communities that inhabit the 800 hectares of water (Micro-organism ‘hunter’ sees signs of progress in Base Mine Lake’s microbial communities).

Given the amount of research into water-capped tailings management technology since the early 1980s, it was unsurprising to see Syncrude turn to technology to solve the issue of oil sheens on the lake’s surface.

“Residual bitumen from extraction makes up a small portion of fluid fine tailings (FFT). When we placed the FFT into the pit that now forms Base Mine Lake, some of the bitumen was liberated, resulting in mats that formed in two corners of the lake,” says Brandon Kremp, a mining engineer in Tailings & Lease Development. “The initial filling of the pit and the bitumen mats have resulted in a hydrocarbon sheen on the surface and bitumen coating along the shoreline.”

Syncrude first attempted to remove the mats using a hydraulic dredging technology, where a large screw rotated into the tailings bed to disturb the bitumen, which was sucked by a cutter head similar to a vacuum.

“We pumped that material into a nearby holding pond in 2018 and 2019,” says Brandon, who joined Syncrude in 2019 after starting as a co-op student three years earlier. “Syncrude had used that technology to transfer materials being holding ponds for several years but it didn’t work as well on the bitumen mats due to the viscosity of the material.”
A team began researching alternatives and came up with another solution, an underwater mechanical excavator that could scoop material from the tailings bed.
“We began using this method when we started dredging in the middle of August and will use it until the end of the season, which typically comes near the end of October when the lake starts to freeze over,” says Sebastian Lastra Valenzuela, Team Leader, Mildred Lake Tailings Planning.

It’s very exciting to be involved in proving this concept and making sure it’s successful to show end-of-mine lakes are suitable closure features for both Syncrude and oil sands as a whole.

– Sebastian Lastra Valenzuela

Every operator has this type of lake in their closure plan and we are proud to be the ones pioneering it.”

As with proving any ground-breaking technology, the team has faced some challenges. “But we’ve learned from them and are gratified to see the result of a lot of hard work. We are at the very early stages but the technology is showing real promise,” says Sebastian, who joined Syncrude in 2014.

And the success to date has many authors as collaboration with other business units, including Research & Development, Tailings & Lease Development – Expense Projects and Operations – helped Sebastian’s team unlock the solutions.

“There’s a lot of people who deserve to share the credit for driving this project forward, including Keith Baker, Sandra Armstrong and Robert Trettenero,” says Sebastian. “Our work has also been strongly supported by Trevor Finlayson, Barry Bara, Dallas Heisler and Carla Wytrykush.”

To the untrained eye, Base Mine Lake looks like an unremarkable body of water with the sole oddity of having mechanical falcons and other noise-makers floating on buoys to deter waterfowl from landing on its surface.

Beneath that water and surrounding landscape, close to 40 years of research has gone into the lake, a demonstration project of Syncrude’s water-capped tailings technology to turn a former mine pit and tailings pond into a lake capable of supporting aquatic plants and animals.

“Syncrude and its researchers have earned more than 240 patents but we have just one to show for all the research put into the water-capped tailings technology. That’s primarily because we are sharing our intellectual property on our reclamation technologies publicly,” says Mal Carroll, Syncrude’s Manager – Research & Development. “Six universities have conducted research on Base Mine Lake’s progress as part of a very extensive research and monitoring program and they share their findings through peer-reviewed papers. We also share what we’ve found with our industry partners through organizations such as Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance as well as post that research online.”

Syncrude first began looking at capping fluid tailings – a byproduct of mining and extracting bitumen from oil sands ore – in the early 1980s. Open-pit mines throughout the world have created pit lakes to reclaim their mines, but it had never been attempted in the oil sands.

“Syncrude scales up its research and it was no different with this technology,” says Mal, who has worked for Syncrude for 27 years. “Researchers began with bench-scale experiments in the lab. We then moved into field research by establishing seven small tailings test ponds at the Mildred Lake site in 1989. That work continued with the development of four larger test ponds in 1993.”

Those findings convinced Syncrude to move ahead with Base Mine Lake, a former tailings pond in the original Base Mine, located just south of the Mildred Lake upgrading complex west of Highway 63. Syncrude stopped pouring in fluid tailings at the end of 2012 and began adding fresh water from the Beaver Creek Reservoir, and mine process water in 2013. The lake now covers 800 hectares with about 45 metres of fluid tailings. The tailings were capped by five metres of water, and with dewatering the water cap is now up to 12 metres deep. Syncrude, the University of Toronto (Water is in her blood), McMaster University, University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan have conducted research and monitoring on Base Mine Lake to chart the progress in several different areas, including, dewatering of the underlying fluid tailings layer and water chemistry.

“We’re really pleased with what we are seeing.

– Mal Carroll

The fluid tailings are dewatering. Researchers are tracking changes in the water, right down to the microbial level (Micro-organism ‘hunter’ sees signs of progress in Base Mine Lake’s microbial communities),” says Mal. “We’ve made a lot of progress but recognize there’s still work to be done. And going forward, we will continue to have science guide us, just as we have over the previous four decades. And we will continue to share our findings with the public, particularly the Indigenous community members who have visited Base Mine Lake and want to learn more about it. Patents are nice but transparency is very important with this project. We want people to know we are getting this done the right way.”

Growing up in Saskatchewan, Dallas Heisler understood the importance of water from an early age.

“Water is prized given the prominence of farming where I grew up,” says Dallas, Syncrude’s Pit Lake Co-ordinator. “But we also recognize the value of water in the Wood Buffalo region. While agriculture isn’t a major industry here, the lakes, rivers and wetlands are very important. People want them to be protected. That’s no different than back home.”

Syncrude is bringing those values to managing Base Mine Lake, the demonstration project for its water-capped tailings The lake, which covers 800 hectares just south of Syncrude’s Mildred Lake upgrading complex, was a former mine pit prior to being a tailings pond.

“Syncrude completed tailings infilling at the end of 2012 and began importing fresh water from the Beaver Creek Reservoir starting in 2013 so there is now approximately 40 metres of fluid tailings covered with about 10 metres of water,” says Dallas. “Researchers from Syncrude (Medical equipment helps solve Base Mine Lake monitoring mysteries) as well as several universities, including the University of Toronto (Water is in her blood) and the University of Calgary (Micro organism hunter sees signs of progress in Base Mine Lakes microbial communities) have monitored the progress of Base Mine Lake since then. What they’ve found is the fluid tailings are dewatering, which reduces their volume. We’re also seeing promising changes in the water quality, which is in line with the 40 years of previous research we’ve done on water capping.”

Because Base Mine Lake is designed to function as part of a wider reclaimed landscape, it operates as a flow-through system with inflows and outflows similar to natural lakes.

“The inflow comes from the Beaver Creek Reservoir from the south. Right now, the outflow water is returned to Syncrude’s recycle water system,” Dallas says. “While the goal is to eventually have the lake flow out to the Athabasca River, we need to store that water on site at the present time until the federal governments establish regulatory criteria for treated mine water into the environment.”

Syncrude is working on demonstrating two technologies – water-capped tailings technology and coke-treatment (Warren’s innovation will help reclaim tailings ponds faster. – Syncrude) to eventually allow the release of mine water into the environment. Those releases are anticipated to be managed consistently with other releases approved from other industries in Alberta and Canada. Until then, all water – including Base Mine Lake’s outflow – must remain stored on site. “We are operating close to our capacity for mine water and tailings so we are looking at all options as we do not want to build a new tailings facility,” Dallas says. “As a result, we have decided not to bring in fresh water from Beaver Creek Reservoir to Base Mine Lake for this year. It is the responsible thing to do in order to manage our water inventory on site.”

The extensive monitoring program will continue to track changes within the lake through the year to determine how the change in water inflow influences Base Mine Lake’s performance.

We have a solid plan in place.

– Dallas Heisler

“We’ve tied this into all the work being done on the monitoring and research. We’ll continue collecting samples and getting researchers out on the lake and reporting those findings.”

But he’ll say that having a team you can rely on is the real key to improving production.

As the final product touch point, hydrotreaters are critical units in Syncrude’s upgrading process—and ensuring they continue to run optimally is of vital importance. That’s where Shane Bissonnette and the rest of the Hydroprocessing team come in.

A few years into his career as a Millwright with Syncrude, Shane’s keen eye for detail, love for collaborating with his teammates, and hands-on experience working the floor and fixing pump failures made him a natural choice for writing hydroprocessing maintenance procedures.

While Shane may spend long hours alone at his computer, he’s the first to admit that his writing process isn’t a solo mission. “I make a point to not sit in my cubicle all day. I go see my crew. They’re like my second family. I ask them questions. They ask me questions. I hear their frustrations and their excitement over discovering new ways of doing things. And I make sure all that information gets into the instructions and procedures.”

In 2019, Syncrude established the Pump Reliability Excellence Program (PREP). Not surprisingly, Shane was among those named to the PREP team. To say the program has been a success would be a serious understatement.

By consulting with the team on the floor to optimize maintenance procedures, the PREP team helped to more than double the average pump life in 2020. What’s more, pump reliability also dramatically improved last year; this enabled a more reliable hydroprocessing operation with the ability to throughput more product more responsibly.

It’s a team effort; many people contribute, and this makes the work easier.

– Shane Bissonnette

“The collaboration to make our maintenance procedures even better is very rewarding and it shows in the results,” remarks Shane with pride.

It’s true, the proof is in the production. Thanks to our workforce’s commitment to working collaboratively, seeking to understand and embracing a One Team mindset, we made real advancements in process reliability in 2019 and 2020, resulting in increased production of Syncrude Sweet Premium and overall improvement in environmental performance.

Kudos, Syncrude!

“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness,” wrote Seneca the Younger, a Roman philosopher. Roughly 2,000 years later, Diana Naca-Rowsell can relate to the Stoic philosopher’s advice after spending more than 13 years operating heavy equipment on the haul roads at Syncrude.

“There are all kinds of different conditions you must look for while driving a haul truck,” says Diana. “You will get spillage from the back of other trucks. Rutted roads are tough on the tires, the equipment and even your body. You might not realize it at the time but driving too fast or too aggressively will eventually lead to aches, whether it’s sore muscles or bones. And you have to watch for roads that are too narrow for two-way traffic as it forces your equipment into the berm, which are very rough on the tires on your blindside.”

“There are all kinds of different conditions you must look for while driving a haul truck,” says Diana. “You will get spillage from the back of other trucks. Rutted roads are tough on the tires, the equipment and even your body. You might not realize it at the time but driving too fast or too aggressively will eventually lead to aches, whether it’s sore muscles or bones. And you have to watch for roads that are too narrow for two-way traffic as it forces your equipment into the berm, which are very rough on the tires on your blindside.”

“Our tire vendor reported a 39 per cent increase in average rolling hours and 46 per cent increase in distance since the beginning of 2019, which is incredible,” says Scott Saunders, Business Team Leader, Mildred Lake Trucks & Productivity.

Haul tires are now lasting more than 5,000 operating hours and more than 100,000 kilometres on a rolling average.

– Scott Saunders

“Given that these tires cost about $60,000 each and there’s six on every truck, this is a significant savings that really demonstrates Syncrude’s commitment to operate safely, responsibly, reliably and profitably,” he says.

Mildred Lake Mining adopted the tire champion program from its counterparts at Aurora Mining, where the program had already demonstrated its value.

“Aurora’s Keith Tremblett helped set up the program at Mildred Lake. Every shift has a tire champion, who look at the roads and conditions and potential damage to tires and we correct them. We found it very helpful in the spring, when the roads get muddier in the mine due to the thawing and rain,” Scott says. “Wet tires cut much easier than a dry tire – if there are rocks in the mud and a truck drives through, it will cut up a tire – that’s the main cause of our tire failures. One of our frontline leaders, Thomas Dowson, actually dug out a rock and created a poster that we put in the Mildred Lake Mine dry (gathering area for operators) so everybody could see the potential hidden dangers. It’s an example of everybody buying into the idea, from operators to leader to planners to maintenance crews.”

Diana, for her part, feels proud to have been part of the wider effort that has lengthened the life and mileage on haul tires.

To know you’re able to make a difference really feels really good.

– Diana Naca-Roswell

When Dustin Stuyt and his team sought solutions to extend the life of tertiary sizer teeth in Syncrude’s ore crushing units, they looked internally to the Research and Development department for ideas.

The collaboration resulted in new technologies that could see oil sands mining and extraction equipment of all kinds running for years before they need maintenance.

Syncrude has been tackling material wear issues since production began in 1978. The abrasive nature of oil sand combined with the extreme temperatures throughout the year in Northern Alberta have played havoc on shovel teeth, grader blades, and tertiary sizer teeth in particular. As equipment and technology have changed, so have the solutions to these issues. The ultimate goal is to extend equipment performance as long as possible before replacement is required.

The company’s Leading Edge Advanced Performance (LEAP) project was created five years ago to look at extending the life of equipment in direct contact with oil sand and rock materials. Dan Wolfe, senior associate, Mechanical with R&D, leads the project and their work on tertiary sizer teeth has revealed viable solutions including friction welding technology adapted from the aerospace industry.

Tertiary sizers are the final step in wet crushing technology used at Syncrude’s North Mine operation to process oil sand and prepare it for hydrotransport. After oil sand is broken down by crushers in the field to about the size of a beach ball, the material has water added to it while it passes through two sets of sizers before being sent to Extraction. In secondary sizing, those beach ball pieces become the size of a volleyball, and after tertiary sizing the pieces are softball size or smaller.

Syncrude’s North Mine uses a wet crushing technology that mixes crushed oil sands with water through secondary and tertiary sizers to produce a slurry for bitumen extraction. New technology developed for the sizer teeth has the potential to extend unit run life 10 times longer than is currently achieved.

The magic happens in the tertiary sizers.

– Dustin Stuyt

“It’s the last step where oil sand is mixed with water and chemicals to convert it to a slurry of finer particles that can be easily transported to Extraction,” says Dustin Stuyt, a senior engineer with Equipment & Reliability Engineering.

Unlike other extraction technologies on site where screens reject materials larger than a specified maximum before the remainder enters the hydrotransport system, the use of sizers allows everything to be fed into the system allowing for greater bitumen recovery and fewer maintenance issues along the way to Extraction. There are four of these systems operating in parallel at North Mine.

The sizers consist of four rotating shafts about five metres long with fist-sized teeth. There are 432 teeth on each of the shafts on the tertiary sizers for a total of 1,728 in a machine. Over a typical run of 2,000 hours, more than 10 million tonnes of oil sand will pass through the system before the teeth will need maintenance, with the tertiary sizers taking the brunt of the wear.

The wear issue is significant in the sizers, because if you lose one inch off the teeth, larger materials get through and you’ll start damaging equipment downstream.

– Dan Wolfe

Dustin’s Extraction team and R&D tested a number of options for the tertiary sizer teeth with various degrees of success – including a test that both he and Dan referred to as a horrific failure – until they discovered two tungsten carbide options with serious potential.

Tungsten carbide is a dense, metal-like substance about two times heavier than steel and up to 10 times harder. It’s the hardest material commercially available to Syncrude and wears extremely well, but it is prone to cracking when attached to steel with traditional joining processes.

The first option to the team was teeth sourced from a US-based company specializing in tungsten carbide products. They developed a sizer tooth with broken bits of tungsten carbide recycled from hard rock drills embedded in the first centimetre of the tooth.
“These teeth cost less than what we’re currently using and so far the results have shown they can last about twice as long,” says Dustin.

Tertiary sizer teeth ready for action. The teeth are made from solid blocks of 25-millimetre thick tungsten carbide clad with a Kovar coating and attached to the segments using a friction welding technique.

The new teeth are being attached to the sizer segments as maintenance rebuilds take place. Using the previous teeth, the team budgeted for nine rebuilds per year but the new, lower-cost sizer teeth could reduce rebuilds to as few as three per year – meaning millions of dollars in annual savings.

“We think the teeth could process up to 30 million tonnes of ore before they need replacement,” says Dustin. “With the addition of small tungsten carbide studs between the teeth, we are seeing better product for hydrotransport and our wear rates have dropped off by 50 per cent since the wet crusher was commissioned.”

A second option, while more complex, is showing even greater potential. It involves cladding solid blocks of 25-millimetre thick tungsten carbide with a Kovar coating, and attaching them to the segments using a friction welding technique. Kovar is a unique iron-nickel-cobalt alloy that expands and contracts like the tungsten carbide material. When Kovar cools from the cladding operation it doesn’t create residual stress at the bond line. Without the Kovar coating, a crack forms when the tungsten carbide is welded to the steel and it doesn’t take long for the block to break off.

Hugh Roth is a senior associate, Metallurgy at R&D, who tested this new technology and introduced the Kovar coating/friction welding solution. “With friction welding the weld takes seconds to make. It is only hot at the interface and the carbide doesn’t know it’s being welded,” he says.

Syncrude is the first company to evaluate this technology and we anticipate it having benefits for a wide range of earth engaging equipment.

– Hugh Roth

Syncrude is analyzing results as they come in and is looking to evaluate the technology for other applications. R&D tested friction welding on grader blades and tertiary sizers this winter with extremely positive results. While regular grader blade edges last about two weeks before they need to be replaced, the test showed potential for them to last an entire season. Additionally, 66 of the friction welded sizer teeth were put into service and all of them showed little to no wear after two months. It’s possible the teeth could last 10 times longer than current teeth, or 20,000 hours.

“It’s a totally different level of capability,” said Hugh. “We can design and operate equipment in a completely different way now that we know materials can last 20,000 hours or more and we can rely on the metal keeping its shape. Outage schedules don’t have to be what they were, and we may not have to build redundancy into our operating equipment.”

While there is excitement for the results to come from this collaboration, Dan believes more can be done to improve wear rates in the future. Developing two parallel solutions for a big problem and applying those ideas to other leading edge issues, means there is more testing to do. And with that, more innovations to come for R&D and Bitumen Production to extend wear life on machinery and equipment.

Warren Zubot is leading the team behind an exciting innovation that’s targeting faster, more effective reclamation of tailings areas.

Syncrude takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. That’s why we’re always looking for new and better ways to improve our sustainability and environmental performance. Take Warren, a Senior Engineering Associate who is on a mission to find a way to treat tailings water for safe release.

Tailings, a byproduct of extracting bitumen from oil sand, are stored in tailings ponds and are a mixture of water, sand, clay, fine solids, residual hydrocarbons and salts. Although these ponds are the source of water that is recycled and used in our production processes, their growth is something we want to avoid. Having the ability to treat and safely release tailings water will eliminate the need for long-term storage and allow faster and more effective return of land to a natural state.

That’s where Warren’s innovation comes in.

Applying principles that are similar to a home water filter using activated carbon, Warren’s technology uses petroleum coke from Syncrude’s upgrader to remove the unwanted compounds from tailings water, transforming it so that it can safely support aquatic life and other downstream uses. Once tailings water becomes safe for release, tailings areas can be returned back to a productive natural state, making this water treatment innovation a huge step in solving a major reclamation challenge.

After a successful small-scale pilot in 2012, Syncrude contracted one of the region’s leading Indigenous businesses to design and construct a full-scale pilot treatment facility, as well as manage the ongoing monitoring of treated water. The facility began operation in June 2019.

It takes a lot of outside-the-box thinking to create something that’s never been done before. It took a lot of collaboration across Syncrude teams, along with the skills of a local Indigenous business to make it possible.

– Warren zubot

Syncrude has engaged Indigenous communities and other regional stakeholders to educate them about the project, seek feedback and ensure we work with our neighbours to mitigate their concerns.

As always, Syncrude will share insights with our industry partners through COSIA, as well as with academic institutions to advance knowledge and ensure results are transparent and publicly available in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

When Rochelle Young first started working at Syncrude 20 years ago, she heard about plans to turn the west in-pit tailings pond into a lake.

“I remember wondering, ‘How is that actually possible? I was working as an environmental scientist and it was hard to imagine.”

Today, Rochelle works as a Regulatory Affairs Advisor and that tailings pond is now Base Mine Lake, an eight-square-kilometre pit lake that borders Highway 63 to the west as you travel south from the Mildred Lake site.

Syncrude stopped using it as a tailings facility close to 10 years ago – on Dec. 31, 2012. The lake now plays a critical role in Syncrude’s reclaimed landscape as the first commercial-scale demonstration of water-capped tailings technology and the oil sands industry’s first pit lake.

But, why pit lakes? Surface mining results in large pits that must be reclaimed. Some mine pits are filled with mine materials such as overburden or tailings to form a solid surface, which is then reclaimed to forests and wetlands. Other mine pits are reclaimed to lakes.

Due to the nature and timing of mine material movement and use, the overburden that was removed to initiate the pit is reclaimed as soon as practical on Syncrude’s site. This is part of our commitment to progressive reclamation and meeting our goal of minimizing the effect of disturbance.

However, this leaves insufficient material available to fill one or more of the mine pits at the completion of mining. These pits may be partially or fully filled with water (mine and/or fresh water) and reclaimed as a lake (pit lake). Pit lakes reduce the need for material re-handling, which would result in increased emissions from material transportation (such as greenhouse gases or nitrogen oxides), lengthen reclamation timelines and success, and increased costs.

Pit lakes are used at open-pit mine sites around the world, and are a global mining industry best practice for reclamation and closure. Pit lakes support a variety of plants and animals typical of aquatic ecosystems and are integrated into the reclaimed landscape.

“Syncrude has included water-capped fluid tailings in pit lakes since its earliest closure plan designs,” says Rochelle. “The Alberta regulator gave our company approval to have Base Mine Lake as a demonstration to prove that pit lakes are viable.”

Developing a successful pit lake requires planning, monitoring and research to learn and guide lake management.

Pit lake designs and plans have changed over time to reflect the state of knowledge of oil sands mine waters and tailings, technology advances, changing regulations and inputs from local stakeholders and Indigenous communities.

Base Mine Lake’s water capping technology includes filling the empty mine pit with fluid tailings (a mixture of clay, fine solids, water and residual bitumen), and then capping it with water to form a lake. The demonstration intends to show that the water quality will improve over time while the tailings solids remain isolated at the bottom of the lake.

Rochelle, who is working on several tailings projects, explains pit lakes are just one of a suite of reclamation methods that are used today and that like with any reclamation project, there are challenges. However, she believes that this is a challenge that Syncrude will meet.

“Results of the water-capped tailings technology are very positive so far. Syncrude is demonstrating we have physically sequestered the tailings from the water body,” says Rochelle. “We are also showing the water quality is improving over time, which is supporting natural biological communities to develop.”

With roughly 40 years of rigorous research on pit lakes among Canadian oil sands producers, Rochelle is confident and optimistic about Syncrude’s reclamation that includes Base Mine Lake and future pit lakes to come.

It is amazing to see the progress over the past 20 years. The Base Lake Mine project demonstrates what can be achieved with research, experience and hard work. It shows what seems impossible is within your reach.

– Rochelle Young

Kerri Cutler and Craig Keeping work on two separate but interdependent teams that helped each other achieve big things in 2020.

At Syncrude, our workforce is made up of about 5,000 employees. We use the term workforce because when we work together as One Team, we are just that—a force. Due to the sequential, just-in-time nature of our production process, we all rely on each other to keep operations running smoothly.

Take Kerri and Craig’s story, for instance. They may not work directly together, but thanks to extraordinary teamwork and cross-discipline collaboration both of their teams achieved remarkable milestones in 2020.

As a heavy duty mechanic on Team 506, Craig’s team achieved an almost unimaginable milestone with one of the trucks from the 17-100 series, which were introduced into service in 1999 making them the oldest trucks in Syncrude’s fleet. Under the care of many, haul truck 100 surpassed 150,000 hours in service—more than doubling its original life expectancy of 72,000 hours!

Craig has been tuning up 100 series haulers for nearly a decade. Over the years he’s developed a real passion for keeping them running at their best and performing in line with the new models. He’s also the first to point out that a milestone like this doesn’t happen in isolation.

“No one person made 150,000 hours happen. It took a complete group effort to make it possible, from our leaders to our coordinators to the planning department to all the mechanics in the shop.

It’s a whole Aurora Mine Maintenance Team effort really.

– Craig Keeping

It’s that kind of teamwork that keeps our haul trucks running reliably and delivering a steady stream of oil sands to Extraction. It was also a major contributor in helping another set of our colleagues achieve an outstanding outcome of their own.

The Bitumen Production team set not one but two outstanding production records in 2020: best month ever in December with 13,383 kilobarrels (KBBL), breaking the previous record of 13,074 KBBL set in August 2016, and best week ever with 3,272 KBBL in the week of December 15, breaking the record of 3,251 KBBL set the week of December 22, 2018.

Panel Operator Kerri Cutler remarks that this amazing achievement is the result of cooperation and alignment across the organization. After working 13 years as a field operator, Kerri now puts her field experience to work in the control room.

“Being on the panel gives you a different perspective of the importance of equipment reliability, availability and working closely with other teams—upstream and downstream,” observed Kerri.

Collaboration is key. Everybody always comes together to figure out the most efficient, most effective way to get things done.

– Kerri Cutler

“This team spirit not only played a big role in achieving the record bitumen production, it also makes Syncrude a great place to work.”