Authors: Pruett, WA

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Pruett, WA 2012, 'Employing effective soil handling strategies to meet reclamation targets in Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands region', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Mine Closure 2012: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 587-595,

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This paper describes the role that effective soil handling strategies play in promoting successful reclamation in Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands region. As oil sands developments continue to expand the need to promote effective reclamation planning early in the life of mine becomes integral to successfully meeting reclamation targets. Establishing and maintaining well considered soil handling practices throughout mine development and operation ensures soil quality is maintained and adequate reclamation material is available for the life of mine. Effective soil handling must begin with realistic and achievable material balance calculations. Often mine development projects run into costly reclamation scenarios due in part to unrealistic reclamation material estimates. Potential reclamation material balance shortfalls and potential soil quality degradation are compounded by the relatively large scale and long life of oil sands mines. Soil handling plans should start from the base precept that reclamation planning be more closely tied to achievable life of mine material balances. Reclamation material estimates accuracy benefits from being more mindful of project-specific limiting conditions and operational feasibility, as opposed to stamping an ultimate footprint on a map and running basic calculations. More often than not, material balances do not take into account ‘real world’ factors that impact reclamation material salvage. In this regard, the material balance and soil handling plan must allow for reconciliation based on actual reclamation material recovery rates. Spatial and temporal considerations must be included in soil handling planning to ensure that proposed soil and vegetation prescriptions are attainable. Not achieving reclamation targets, either spatially or temporally, can result in large financial penalties. It is recommended that mine planners work with experienced soil specialists to ensure the best quality materials are salvaged and stockpiled for reclamation early in the mine development process to avoid potential shortfalls later in life of mine. Soil salvage and placement strategies should be dynamic and evolve in step with research and operational changes. Early implementation of practices for effective soil salvage and placement can identify deficiencies before critical stages of mine development where alternation of reclamation practices and targets becomes impractical. Scientifically and operationally sound soil salvage and placement practices provide a solid base for achieving reclamation targets. Establishing reclamation material stockpiles in prudent locations becomes particularly important when linking soil placement with reclamation progression. Within the limitations of the mine plan, stockpiles should be positioned relative to destination points to ensure material availability when targeting soil prescriptions that achieve reclamation targets. A reasoned plan for storage and movement of reclamation material will reduce transportation costs, reduce emissions and improve reclamation efficiency. Effective soil handling also promotes protection of soil quality and ensures adequate reclamation material is available when needed. This process helps to ensure that reclamation targets can be achieved. Poorly designed soil handling plans lead to costly budget overages and unattainable reclamation targets.

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