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TitleUnderstanding the evolution of oil sands tailings deposits using tritium-helium dating and noble gases
AuthorUtting, NORCID logo; Birks, J S; Darrah, T H
SourceApplied Geochemistry vol. 148, 105533, 2022 p. 1-11, Open Access logo Open Access
Alt SeriesNatural Resources Canada, Contribution Series 20220566
Mediapaper; digital; on-line
File formatpdf
Subjectsgeochemistry; hydrogeology; helium; helium isotopes; hydrogen isotopes; hydrogen; oil sands; tailings; gas; tritium; tritium dates
Illustrationsdiagrams; tables; plots; graphs
ProgramCanmetENERGY - Devon Director, Upstream and Environmental Impacts - Upstream and Environmental Impacts Operations
Released2022 11 26
AbstractOil sands tailings are deposited in tailings ponds to allow fines to settle over time. Knowledge of the age of tailings allows for an improved determination of the settling rates of tailings as well as an understanding of geochemical processes within the tailings ponds. In this study we tested the use of the tritium (3H) - helium (3He) age dating method to date pore water of oil sands tailings deposits. This method exploits the decay of naturally occurring 3H and its radioactive daughter product 3He to calculate the ages of tailings. Samples were collected from four oil sands tailings ponds. Many of the samples have noble gas concentrations that were below the air equilibrated water concentrations and some samples were supersaturated in methane (CH4). The concentrations are interpreted to be lower than expected as a result of stripping by the production of CH4. When samples supersaturated in CH4 are excluded, the calculated ages of Pond A samples ranged from 1.5 ± 0.1 to 32.0 ± 0.9 years, Pond B ranged from 5.3 ± 0.3 to 23.0 ± 0.8 years, Pond C ranged from 0 ± 0 to 6.5 ± 0.3 years, and Pond D ranged from 16.6 ± 0.6 to 27.3 ± 0.8. The tailings samples obtained from Pond A, Pond C and Pond D show a general trend of increasing tailings age with depth.

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