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Capping dewatered oil sands fluid fine tailings with salvaged reclamation soils at varying depths to grow woody plants.

Lalonde, R. S., B. D. Pinno, M. D.MacKenzie and N.Utting. 2020.

Abstract

Managing fluid fine tailings (FFT) present a major cause of industrial and environmental concerns in oil sands surface mining production. A potential management solution is to dewater and cap the FFT solids for use in land reclamation. A 16 wk greenhouse study was conducted to assess whether FFT centrifuge cake with caps of various reclamation soil mixes (forest floor mineral mix, peat mineral mix, and a mixture of both) and depths (0, 5, 10, and 20 cm) would support growth of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides - native broadleaf tree) and beaked willow (Salix bebbiana - native broadleaf shrub). Beaked willow had a much greater survival rate (100%) when grown directly in FFT cake compared with trembling aspen (16.7%). Plants grown directly in FFT cake were negatively impacted by high water content, low nitrate supply rates, and high metal concentrations with beaked willow seedlings having 10 times higher foliar concentrations of Al, Cr, and Ti compared with any other treatments. Adding soil caps substantially increased aboveground biomass for both species, but differences among soil cap types and depths did not have as significant of an effect on plant growth. Results from this study show that capping FFT substantially improves woody plant growth, and S. bebbiana and P. tremuloides are potentially suitable species for tailings reclamation.