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Regulator rejects Suncor tailings plan

Alberta authorities say company fails to provide enough information about reclamation plan

Suncor Energy's plan to remediate its oil sands tailings ponds has been rejected by the Alberta Energy Regulator for a lack of information.

The Canadian major submitted fluid tailings management plans for its Base and Millennium oil sands mines with the regulator in April 2016.

Under the province's new tailings directive - Directive 085 - all oil sands operators using tailings ponds are required to develop reclamation plans to eliminate tailings ponds within a decade of a mine's closure.

According to a letter sent 17 March, the AER said Suncor's tailings framework "does not satisfy the requirements" under Directive 085.

According to its submission, Suncor plans to treat 75% of its fluid tailings with "water-capping", which will involves placing a layer of water over a deposit to form a new lake. However, the AER said the plan fails to describe the environmental risks or how they will be managed during operation, reclamation and closure.

Suncor also provided an alternative to water-capping such as capping tailings with solid material to create an "in-pit terrestrial landform" in 2039, six years after the end of the mine's life. The AER said there was insufficient information about how it would be constructed.

In its letter, the AER said it "acknowledges Suncor is committed to the responsible development of the oil sands" but said the company must submit a new application.

In a statement, Suncor said it is working with the AER to "move the regulatory process forward".