Bringing Big Thinkers to the Table

Those with the biggest stake in oil sands tailings helped develop new AER requirements

The fluid tailings generated by oil sands mines are a big issue in Alberta—one that requires some big thinking to resolve.

So when it comes to designing new rules to address tailings, what could be better than gathering some big thinkers from the groups with a direct interest in the growing problem?

“For the first time, the AER established a committee of key stakeholders to help us build new tailings requirements,” said Tania De Silva, director, tailings regulatory framework. “It included people from oil sands mining companies, indigenous people, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and environmental organizations.”

The AER’s new fluid tailings management directive, released July 14, shows that strong requirements can be built together. It includes requirements for tailing management plan applications and performance reporting.

The group had the opportunity to ask questions, bring issues forward, and communicate the values and interests of the groups they represented. They dug through a draft of the directive and worked together to find consensus on the document. Whatever the group could not agree on went back to the AER for a final decision.

Industry and Albertans who weren’t around the table also provided input through our engagement website (, by e-mail, or by letter. However, the committee gave those with the most at stake an opportunity to meet face-to-face not only with AER staff, but also with those whose opinions differed.

The new directive is part of a phased approach to implementing the Government of Alberta’s Tailings Management Framework. Next year, surveillance requirements and enforcement measures are to be included to complete the second phase of the directive.

Both the framework and the new directive use the fluid tailings' volumes as the measure by which performance is tracked. The framework also directs companies to progressively reclaim the land and carry out additional monitoring and reporting.

“This directive is the culmination of many hours of hard work, technical expertise, and stakeholder feed­back,” De Silva.

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