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TitleBiogeochemical processes controlling the mobility of major ions and trace metals in aquitard sediments beneath an oil sand tailing pond: Laboratory studies and reactive transport modeling
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsHolden, A. A., Haque S. E., Mayer K. U., & Ulrich A. C.
Pagination12 pages
Date Published08/2013
PublisherJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Publication Languageeng
Keywordsgroundwater, hydrogeology, laboratory, metals, salinity, seepage, sodicity, tailings water, UofA

Increased production and expansion of the oil sand industry in Alberta are of great benefit to the economy, but they carry major environmental challenges. The volume of fluid fine tailings requiring storage is 840 × 106 m3 and growing, making it imperative that we better understand the fate and transport of oil sand process-affected water (OSPW) seepage from these facilities. Accordingly, the current study seeks to characterize both a) the potential for major ion and trace element release, and b) the principal biogeochemical processes involved, as tailing pond OSPW infiltrates into, and interacts with, underlying glacial till sediments prior to reaching down gradient aquifers or surface waters. Objectives were addressed through a series of aqueous and solid phase experiments, including radial diffusion cells, an isotope analysis, X-ray diffraction, and sequential extractions. The diffusion cells were also simulated in a reactive transport framework to elucidate key reaction processes. The experiments indicate that the ingress and interaction of OSPW with the glacial till sediment-pore water system will result in: a mitigation of ingressing Na (retardation), displacement and then limited precipitation of exchangeable Ca and Mg (as carbonates), sulfate reduction and subsequent precipitation of the produced sulfides, as well as biodegradation of organic carbon. High concentrations of ingressing Cl (~ 375 mg L− 1) and Na (~ 575 mg L− 1) (even though the latter is delayed, or retarded) are expected to migrate through the till and into the underlying sand channel. Trace element mobility was influenced by ion exchange, oxidation–reduction, and mineral phase reactions including reductive dissolution of metal oxyhydroxides — in accordance with previous observations within sandy aquifer settings. Furthermore, although several trace elements showed the potential for release (Al, B, Ba, Cd, Mn, Pb, Si, Sr), large-scale mobilization is not supported. Thus, the present results suggest that in addition to the commonly cited naphthenic acids, remediation of OSPW-impacted groundwater will need to address high concentrations of major ions contributing to salinization.

Locational Keywords

Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR)

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