Deficiencies and uncertainties notwithstanding, the Alberta Energy Regulator has given the go-ahead to two tailings management plans for the Jackpine and Muskeg River oilsands mines operated by Canadian Natural Upgrading Limited (CNUL), a subsidiary of Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL).
For the Muskeg River Mine, the Alberta Energy Regulator is requiring CNUL to submit a tailings management plan amendment application by September 30, 2021 that contains the tailings management plan for the life of the project and that addresses the uncertainties and deficiencies. For the Jackpine Mine, CNUL has to submit an amendment application in 2022.
In the case of the Muskeg River Mine, CNUL must also submit a series of plans and reports, the first of which is due December 31, 2018, describing how it intends to keep up with the volume of tailings generated by the mine.
In both cases, the Alberta Energy Regulator acknowledges that the applications from CNUL are not in alignment with its Directive 085, which governs Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects.
In a statement, Jodi McNeill, analyst at the Pembina Institute, framed these decisions as part of a pattern. The Alberta Energy Regulator also approved tailings management plans by Suncor in October 2017 and by CNRL for its Horizon Mine in December 2017 that fell short of Directive 085 requirements, said McNeill.
“The approvals indicate the Alberta government intends to continue the 50-year trend of using a lax regulatory approach for managing oilsands tailings based on weak or non-existent targets and metrics, insufficient transparency, and few clear penalties for non-compliance,” McNeill said. “Despite the fact that the public is exposed to a significant level of financial and environmental risk, regulatory stringency in addressing this ever-worsening problem remains elusive.”