This week, the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), an industry-funded consultancy group in Alberta, released the End Pit Lakes Guidance Document to the Government of Alberta for review. The 434-page document outlines a 100-year plan to integrate open-pit mines and tar sands tailings into Northern Alberta's local ecosystem, introducing what they call a 'reclaimed lake district' as a long-term alternative to the temporary tailings ponds that currently hold the billions of gallons of water, sand, clay, hydrocarbons, naphthenic acids, salt and other byproducts of the bitumen extraction and upgrading process.
The 30 proposed end-pit lakes (EPLs) will take up more than 100 square kilometers, spread out over an area of 2,500 square kilometers. Toronto, for comparison, covers an area of 630 square kilometers.
Industry envisions the artificial lake district as a future recreation site, although there is no indication yet that filling empty open-pit mines with freshwater will give way to the clean natural environments necessary to promote recreational uses of the area. In fact, The Globe and Mail reports the document “highlights the scale of the ecological gamble underway in the province” and suggests the technique is being considered as a remediation option because “it's less costly to fill a mine with water than dirt.”