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TitleAdvances in distinguishing groundwater influenced by oil sands process-affected water (OSPW) from natural bitumen-influenced groundwaters
AuthorHewitt, L M; Roy, J W; Rowland, S J; Bickerton, G; DeSilva, A; Headley, J V; Milestone, C B; Scarlett, A G; Brown, S; Spencer, C; West, C E; Peru, K M; Grapentine, L; Ahad, J M EORCID logo; Pakdel, H; Frank, R A
SourceEnvironmental Science & Technology (ES & T) vol. 54, issue 3, 2020 p. 1522-1532, Open
Access logo Open Access
Alt SeriesNatural Resources Canada, Contribution Series 20190575
PublisherACS Publications
Mediapaper; on-line; digital
File formatpdf; html
NTS74D/11; 74D/12; 74D/13; 74D/14; 74E/03; 74E/04; 74E/05; 74E/06
AreaAthabasca River; Fort McMurray; Ells River; MacKay River; Muskeg River; Steepbank River
Lat/Long WENS-112.0000 -111.0000 57.3333 56.6667
Subjectsenvironmental geology; geochemistry; fossil fuels; Nature and Environment; Health and Safety; Science and Technology; petroleum industry; hydrocarbons; oil; oil sands; water quality; groundwater resources; groundwater pollution; groundwater geochemistry; analytical methods; health hazards; bituminous sands; bitumen; Methodology
Illustrationslocation maps; tables; plots; schematic cross-sections; bar graphs
ProgramEnvironmental Geoscience Sources
Released2020 01 06
AbstractThe objective of this study was to advance analytical methods for detecting oil sands process-affected water (OSPW) seepage from mining containments and discriminating any such seepage from the natural bitumen background in groundwaters influenced by the Alberta McMurray formation. Improved sampling methods and quantitative analyses of two groups of monoaromatic acids were employed to analyze OSPW and bitumen-affected natural background groundwaters for source discrimination. Both groups of monoaromatic acids showed significant enrichment in OSPW, while ratios of O2/O4 containing heteroatomic ion classes of acid extractable organics (AEOs) did not exhibit diagnostic differences. Evaluating the monoaromatic acids to track a known plume of OSPW-affected groundwater confirmed their diagnostic abilities. A secondary objective was to assess anthropogenically derived artificial sweeteners and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as potential tracers for OSPW. Despite the discovery of acesulfame and PFAS in most OSPW samples, trace levels in groundwaters influenced by general anthropogenic activities preclude them as individual robust tracers. However, their inclusion with the other metrics employed in this study served to augment the tiered, weight of evidence methodology developed. This methodology was then used to confirm earlier findings of OSPW migrations into groundwater reaching the Athabasca River system adjacent to the reclaimed pond at Tar Island Dyke.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
This study aimed to develop better ways of detecting and distinguishing water contaminated by oil sands processing from natural groundwater in Alberta, Canada. They wanted to find more precise methods for sampling and analyzing the water to tell if it's been affected by the oil sands process.
The researchers used two groups of chemicals found in the water to see if they could be markers for oil sands contamination. They found that one of these chemical groups was more common in water affected by the oil sands process. This helped them figure out if the contamination was from oil sands or just natural background.
They also looked at artificial sweeteners and certain substances called PFAS to see if they could be used as tracers for oil sands pollution. While they did find these substances in water samples from oil sands areas, they also found them in places with general human activity, so they couldn't be used alone as strong tracers.
The scientific impact is significant because it helps us better understand and track the environmental impact of oil sands processing. It provides a more accurate way to detect contamination and helps in managing and protecting water sources. This is important for the environment and people's health in regions with oil sands activities.

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