Process Water Treatment in Canada's Oil Sands Industry: II. A Review of Emerging Technologies

By Allen, Erik W. | Journal of Environmental Engineering and Science, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Process Water Treatment in Canada's Oil Sands Industry: II. A Review of Emerging Technologies


Allen, Erik W., Journal of Environmental Engineering and Science


Abstract: Canada's oil sands industry uses large volumes of freshwater to extract bitumen from surface-mined ore. With oil production expected to increase 3-fold over the next decade, process water treatment has become a critical issue for oil sands operators, both in terms of sustaining bitumen recovery and protecting freshwater resources. To identify candidate treatment technologies, a review was conducted on the state-of-the-art of water treatment in the oil industry. Significant developments include (i) chemical modifications to adsorbents and membranes to improve pollutant removal and reduce fouling; (ii) hybridization of adsorbent, membrane, and bioreactor technologies to enhance the biological treatment of toxic feedwaters; (iii) advances in photocatalytic oxidation of organic compounds; and (iv) implementation of large-scale treatment wetlands to treat hydrocarbon-contaminated wastewaters. In adapting treatment technologies to the oil sands, operators will need to consider the fouling potential of bitumen and fine clays, the effect of process water alkalinity on treatment performance, and the biodegradability of toxic organic compounds.

Key words: oil sands, membranes, adsorption, biological treatment, advanced oxidation, treatment wetlands.

Resume : L'industrie des sables bitumineux au Canada utilise d'importants volumes d'eau douce afin d'extraire le bitume du minerai preleve en surface. En considerant que la production de petrole devrait tripler au cours de la prochaine decennie, le traitement de l'eau de procede devient une preoccupation cruciale pour les exploitants des sables bitumineux en termes de recuperation durable du petrole et de la protection des ressources en eau douce. Afin d'identifier des technologies de traitement potentielles, un examen de l'etat des connaissances sur le traitement des eaux a ete realise pour l'industrie du petrole. Les developpements importants comprennent : (i) des modifications chimiques aux adsorbants et aux membranes afin d'ameliorer l'elimination des polluants et reduire le colmatage; (ii) l'hybridation de l'adsorbant, la membrane et les technologies des bioreacteurs afin d'ameliorer le traitement biologique des eaux d'entree toxiques; (iii) des progres dans l'oxydation photocatalytique des composes organiques; et (iv) l'implantation de marecages de traitement a grande echelle afin de traiter les eaux usees contaminees par les hydrocarbures. En adoptant ces technologies de traitement aux sables bitumineux, les exploitants devront tenir compte du potentiel de colmatage du bitume et des argiles fines, de l'effet de l'alcalinite de l'eau de procede sur le rendement du traitement, ainsi que de la biodegradabilite des composes organiques toxiques.

Mots-cles : sables bitumineux, membranes, adsorption, traitement biologique, oxydation poussee, marecages de traitement. [Traduit par la Redaction]

Introduction

The ongoing expansion of Canada's oil sands industry is contingent on a sustainable supply of freshwater to meet the water requirements of surface mining operations. Oil sands companies withdraw an average of 3 barrels of freshwater for every barrel of oil produced from surface mines (Syncrude Canada 2004; Suncor Energy 2005; Shell Canada 2005), most of which is used in a hot water extraction process that separates bitumen from sand and clay. Tailings produced during extraction trap a large fraction of the process water, necessitating the continual import of freshwater. While oil sands producers have improved water use efficiency through process water recycling, repeated extraction cycles have contributed to a decline in water quality that could disrupt the bitumen extraction process through scaling, fouling, increased corrosivity, and interference with extraction chemistry (Kasperski 2003; Rogers 2004). In addition, operators must contend with the treatment and disposal of millions of cubic metres of toxic process water and tailings currently stored in large tailings ponds. …

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