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Tailings Management in the Alberta Oil Sands: Mitigating the Risk of Pond Failure

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Alberta has a prosperous oil industry with large reserves of oil sands. The oil sands are mined and produce substantial amounts of waste (tailings) needing to be stored in tailings ponds. With a growing number of tailings ponds across the province, the possibility of a pond failure increases. As such, there is a rising concern for the environment, surrounding communities and existing infrastructure. There is thus a need for Alberta to have strategies in place to mitigate the risk of a pond failure. Case studies analysis and a survey of academic literature identify key components and categories of successful tailings management from which three policy options are established and analyzed: dewatered tailings, risk assessment and hazard identifications, and publicly available emergency response plans. A final policy recommendation is made to implement emergency response plans, if it is only feasible to select one option. However, a second recommendation is made to implement all three policies as the most likely way of addressing the complex issue of tailings pond failures.
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