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Surface Mining and Extraction of Oil Sands 

Alberta's oilsandsAnother major resource in Alberta is the oilsands.  This tar-like form of oil known as bitumen, is removed from a mixture of sand and clay.  Shallow deposits of bitumen are mined from the surface and deeper deposits are recovered through wells.  Once the bitumen is extracted, tailings are left behind.  The tailings are a slurry - a mixture of water and solids, containing sand, silt, clay and unextracted bitumen.  The slurry is discharged into tailings ponds.  The sand rapidly settles out and is used to build dykes around the ponds.  Some of the clay particles remain suspended in the water and form what is called fine tailings.  The solids in the fine tailings do not settle out for many years.  Research into the reclamation of these fine tailings continues today.

Reprinted from Focus On Land Reclamation  (1999) with permission of Alberta Environment.

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