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Oil companies finalize pact to share tailings research

Technology development specialist Peter House takes discharge samples at Shell's atmospheric fines drying (AFD) project at the company's Albian Sands facility north of Fort McMurray, Ab. AFD is a newly developed process that Shell hopes will help accelerate the reclamation of toxic tailings.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Canada's oil sands mining companies have made official a pact to share their internal research into one of industry's most difficult environmental problems.

Seven companies will "work together in a unified effort" to pursue new techniques to clean up tailings, the toxic effluent produced by bitumen extraction.

The new partnership is made up of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd ., Imperial Oil Ltd. , Royal Dutch Shell PLC , Suncor Energy Inc ., Syncrude Canada Ltd., Teck Resources Ltd. and Total S.A.

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"We believe that this relationship is a key step towards tailings solutions that will allow us to accelerate the pace of reclamation using the most advanced environmental measures," said John Broadhurst, vice president of Shell's oil sands development, in a statement released Monday morning.

"The issue is not whether we can manage tailings - the issue is whether we can do it better," he said.

The partnership has promised to "eliminate monetary and intellectual property barriers to the use of knowledge and methods related to tailings technology and research and development," although it did not release specifics of how that would work.

Companies have promised to reveal the tailings research they've already conducted, and to collaborate on future work. They are also pledging to give access to that data to academics, regulators and others.

The oil sands Industry has produced 170 square kilometres of tailings in massive ponds made up of water laced with heavy metals, naphthenic acids and a small percentage of unrecovered bitumen.

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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