Investigating the phytotoxicity of oil sands tailings water formed during atmospheric fines drying processing
Oil sands operators are being faced with the challenge of reclaiming the large volumes of slurry tailings created during oil sands processing. New regulations mandate that operators must minimize fluid tailings by capturing fines in dedicated disposal areas, leading to a ‘trafficable’ or solid deposit. Adding a polyacrylamide polymer to the tailings and thinly spreading them over a sloped disposal area (a process developed by Shell Canada Energy known as the atmospheric fines drying or AFD process) has been shown to enhance the dewatering of tailings which leads to a dry deposit at a much faster rate than traditional methods. Hydroponic experiments using the emergent aquatic macrophytes cattail (Typha latifolia L.) and common reed (Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.) were conducted to investigate the phytotoxicity of waters formed during AFD processing. The phytotoxicity of AFD release waters was compared to the phytotoxicity of traditional mature fine tailings (MFT) reclaim water through the monitoring of plant water uptake and whole plant fresh weight over the course of the experiment. It was found that there are no significant differences between the phytotoxicity observed in the MFT and AFD treatments and it was also found that spring runoff melt water from the AFD deposits is less phytotoxic than the original release water. Two additional hydroponic studies using cattail and common reed were also conducted. The first examined the phytotoxic effects attributable solely to the naphthenic acids isolated from Shell’s Muskeg River Mine tailings, and the second evaluated the phytotoxic effects of amending mature fine tailings with gypsum. It was found that the gypsum amended tailings caused greater phytotoxicity in cattail and common reed than tailings without gypsum added. Furthermore, both species were tolerant to growing in nutrient media spiked with naphthenic acids (40 mg/L). The phytotoxicity experiments conducted also demonstrated that common reed is consistently more tolerant to growing in water associated with oil sands tailings and is therefore the more appropriate choice for use in reclamation strategies involving wetland plants. Mass spectrometry was used to determine the naphthenic acid molecular profiles for Shell oil sands tailings. Using low resolution mass spectrometry, no detectable features or changes to the composition of naphthenic acids attributable to Shell processing were found. High-resolution mass spectrometry provided insight into possible plant mediated changes and biodegradation of naphthenic acids. It appears as though, to some extent, cattail is able to dissipate naphthenic acids, which could explain the susceptibility of cattail to the phytotoxic effects of naphthenic acids. Further research is required to determine whether the changes observed in the naphthenic acid mixture are due to microbial degradation and/or a phytotoxic response of the plants studied.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
SupervisorHeadley, John V.; Germida, Jim J.
CommitteeHughes, Sarah A.; Tanino, Karen K.; Siciliano, Steven D.
Copyright DateMay 2013