Author(s): Fedorak PM, Coy DL, Salloum MJ, Dudas MJ
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Abstract Approximately 20\% of Canada's oil supply now comes from the extraction of bitumen from the oil sands deposits in northeastern Alberta. The oil sands are strip-mined, and the bitumen is typically separated from sand and clays by an alkaline hot water extraction process. The rapidly expanding oil sands industry has millions of cubic metres of tailings for disposal and large areas of land to reclaim. There are estimates that the consolidation of the mature fine tails (MFT) in the settling ponds will take about 150 years. Some of the settling ponds are now evolving microbially produced methane, a greenhouse gas. To hasten consolidation, gypsum (CaSO4 x 2H2O) is added to MFT, yielding materials called consolidated or composite tailings (CT). Sulfate from the gypsum has the potential to stimulate sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) to out-compete methanogens, thereby stopping methanogenesis. This investigation examined three MFT and four CT samples from three oil sands extractions companies. Each was found to contain methanogens and SRB. Serum bottle microcosm studies showed sulfate in the CT samples stopped methane production. However, if the microcosms were amended with readily utilizable electron donors, the sulfate was consumed, and when it reached approximately 20 mg/L, methane production began. Some unamended microcosms were incubated for 372 days, with no methane production detected. This work showed that each MFT and CT sample has the potential to become methanogenic, but in the absence of exogenous electron donors, the added sulfate can inhibit methanogenesis for a long time.
This article was published in Can J Microbiol
and referenced in Journal of Petroleum & Environmental Biotechnology