Case study: Reducing Suncor’s mature fine tailings inventory

This post is part 2 in a series looking at how Suncor uses our topographic survey data to  assist their Tailings Reduction Operation (TRO). In this post we’ll look at how they use the data to measure the thickness of their mature fine tailings (MFT) dewatering cells.

Background on mature fine tailings

Mature fine tailings are the clays from the bitumen ore that are suspended in the tailings water. To reduce the area and volume of oil sands tailings ponds, tailings water with suspended clay is mixed with a flocculent which causes the clay to settle out. The tailings water is pumped into dewatering cells where clear water drains off for reuse in bitumen processing while the clay is left behind.

PhotoSat has developed a process to measure the thickness of the clay in each of the mature fine tailings cells in thickness intervals of 15cm. We use our highly accurate topographic mapping between two satellite photo dates to create the detailed elevation maps.

Suncor’s MFT designated drying areas:

  • Total surface area 7.5M m2 (1,866 acres)
  • 697 tailings cells
  • 2788 discharge locations
Suncor mature fine tailings areas

Suncor mature fine tailings areas

 

Zoom of MFT designated drying areas

Zoom of MFT designated drying areas

 

How it works

In last week’s post, we saw that Suncor compared our satellite topographic surveys to other survey methods, and has switched to using PhotoSat mapping as their main surveying method for their TRO operation. The success of this service led PhotoSat, in collaboration with Suncor, to develop a process for automatically mapping the thickness of the mature fine tailings dewatering cells in increments of 15cm. This helps them reduce existing mature fine tailings inventory. The isopachs are provided in map (polygons) and tabular forms.

Satellite photo of MFT system 1

Satellite photo of MFT system 1, July 27, 2014                     Elevation image of MFT system 1, July 27, 2014

 

 

Isopachs (thickness) of MFT System 1

Isopachs (thickness) of MFT System 1, June 29 to July 13                  Thickness changes, July 13 to July 27

 

The spreadsheet data we provide also includes MFT volumes since the last pour, the total area in m2 covered by MFTs, the area of the polygons, the utilization of the polygons, and the MFT lift thickness.

Mature fine tailings mapping from our 15cm accuracy topographic surveys improves the monitoring and measurement of the tailings, providing Suncor with a cost-effective and reliable alternative to GPS surveying and aerial LiDAR mapping. Using satellites also reduces safety risks for field crews.

Next time we’ll look at how Suncor has adopted toes and crests mapping as part of their TRO process.

For more info on our topographic surveys contact us at info@photosat.ca.