The mobility of petroleum hydrocarbons in Athabasca oil sands tailings
Several oil sands tailings from Suncor Energy Inc. were analysed with respect to the mobility and solubility of the petroleum hydrocarbon (PHC) contaminants. At sites where oil sands tailings materials have been disposed of and are covered with a growing medium, the PHCs from the tailings may slowly migrate into the reclamation cover, increasing their availability to the plants in the cover system, which could be detrimental to the development and establishment of the plant cover system. This study characterized the PHC content of the tailings and quantified the desorption and diffusion coefficients for F2 and F3 fraction PHCs. All tailings materials collected from Suncor were characterized for initial PHC content. Desorption coefficients were experimentally determined using batch tests for 9 tailings materials (MFT, LG MFT, PT MFT, Tailings Sand, P4 UB Surface, P4 UB Auger, 2:1 CT, 4:1 CT and 6:1 CT). The experimental results from the batch tests were fitted to a Langmuir hyperbolic isotherm model. Diffusion coefficients were determined by fitting the experimental results from a radial diffusion 1-dimensional experiment to a Finite Difference Model. Diffusion coefficients for F2 and F3 Fraction PHCs were developed for 7 tailings materials (MFT, LG MFT, PT MFT, Tailings Sand, 2:1 CT, 4:1 CT and 6:1 CT). The diffusion coefficients (D*) and the Langmuir desorption constants ( and ) developed from these experiments are included in Table A.1. The desorption coefficients resulting from this study are similar to those reported for the desorption of asphaltene, which is one of the components in oil sands tailings. The Langmuir isotherm model was found to be the best fit for the experimental desorption data; the Langmuir isotherm model is commonly used in sorption isotherms of organic chemicals. The results of the radial diffusion experiments agree with diffusion rates found by other researchers in similar porous media. More research may be needed to verify both of these preliminary results for the desorptive and diffusive transport of F2 and F3 PHC fractions in tailings. Tailings composition will continue to change as new technologies for fines settling and bitumen extraction are developed. The diffusion of PHCs from these new materials will need to be examined as it is probable that these changes will affect the transport and mobility of the contaminants.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
DepartmentCivil and Geological Engineering
CommitteeBarbour, S. Lee; Chang, Won Jae; Lindsay, Matt
Copyright DateSeptember 2013
Athabasca oil sands, oil sands tailings, contaminant transport, diffusion, desorption