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TitleOil sands thickened froth treatment tailings exhibit acid rock drainage potential during evaporative drying
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsKuznetsov, P., Kuznetsova A., Foght J. M., & Siddique T.
Pagination10 pages
Date Published02/2015
PublisherScience of The Total Environment
Publication Languageeng
Keywordsacidity, alkalinity, laboratory, microbiology, pH, tailings, UofA

Bitumen extraction from oil sands ores after surface mining produces different tailings waste streams: ‘froth treatment tailings’ are enriched in pyrite relative to other streams. Tailings treatment can include addition of organic polymers to produce thickened tailings (TT). TT may be further de-watered by deposition into geotechnical cells for evaporative drying to increase shear strength prior to reclamation. To examine the acid rock drainage (ARD) potential of TT, we performed predictive analyses and laboratory experiments on material from field trials of two types of thickened froth treatment tailings (TT1 and TT2). Acid–base accounting (ABA) of initial samples showed that both TT1 and TT2 initially had net acid-producing potential, with ABA values of − 141 and − 230 t CaCO3 equiv. 1000 t− 1 of TT, respectively. In long-term kinetic experiments, duplicate ~ 2-kg samples of TT were incubated in shallow trays and intermittently irrigated under air flow for 459 days to simulate evaporative field drying. Leachates collected from both TT samples initially had pH ~ 6.8 that began decreasing after ~ 50 days (TT2) or ~ 250 days (TT1), stabilizing at pH ~ 2. Correspondingly, the redox potential of leachates increased from 100–200 mV to 500–580 mV and electrical conductivity increased from 2–5 dS m− 1 to 26 dS m− 1, indicating dissolution of minerals during ARD. The rapid onset and prolonged ARD observed with TT2 is attributed to its greater pyrite (13.4%) and lower carbonate (1.4%) contents versus the slower onset of ARD in TT1 (initially 6.0% pyrite and 2.5% carbonates). 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing analysis revealed rapid shift in microbial community when conditions became strongly acidic (pH ~ 2) favoring the enrichment of Acidithiobacillus and Sulfobacillus bacteria in TT. This is the first report showing ARD potential of TT and the results have significant implications for effective management of pyrite-enriched oil sands tailings streams/deposits.

Locational Keywords

Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR)

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