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Alberta energy watchdog will reconsider Suncor's plan to clean up oilsands tailings ponds

Alberta's energy watchdog has agreed to reconsider its rejection of a plan by oilsands giant Suncor to clean up its tailings ponds.

Company would use water cap to contain toxic ponds containing fine clay particles, bitumen, other chemicals

Oil goes into a tailings pond at Suncor oilsands operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Alberta's energy watchdog has agreed to reconsider its rejection of a plan by oilsands giant Suncor to clean up its tailings ponds.

The Alberta Energy Regulator denied the Calgary-based company's applications in March, saying they did not satisfy requirements and a new proposal was needed.

Suncor had proposed using a water cap to contain the toxic ponds that contain fine clay particles, bitumen and other chemicals left behind after mining and upgrading at its northern Alberta facilities.

The regulator says in a letter to a Suncor vice-president that it has reviewed the company's request for reconsideration and decided that it would be appropriate in this case.

New technology

The regulator says it was not aware of technology Suncor plans to use to treat the tailings and that should be considered in its assessment.

It says it accepts Suncor's explanation that it could not share details about the technology before receiving a patent for it.

"The AER would ask that Suncor inform the AER of any such restrictions and potential delays so as to avoid this situation in future," the letter reads.

"Given these unusual circumstances, the AER will reconsider the applications."

The AER introduced new rules last year that require all tailings ponds to be removed within 10 years of the end of a mine's life, replacing more stringent tailings pond regulations put in place in 2009 that industry said it couldn't comply with.

Alberta Energy estimates oilsands mining projects had created about 220 square kilometres of tailings ponds by the end of 2013.

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