Tailings Engineer Spotlight

After oil sands ore is processed, a mixture of water, sand, clay and residual bitumen called “tailings” is left behind. These tailings must be gathered, contained, processed and treated. Over time, these tailings need to settle, but Tailings Engineers never do.

What a typical day looks like:

Tailings Engineers design the processes and infrastructure that manage, treat, store and remediate tailings. This broad scope puts them at every stage of a tailings project: concept, technical requirements, design, construction, operations and decommissioning.

From the beginning Tailings Engineers need to provide plans and assessments for the commissioning, operations and maintenance of their tailings projects. This involves preparing material, cost and timing estimates, along with reports and design specifications for machinery and systems. They also establish the quality control programs, operating procedures and control strategies that will ensure consistency and adherence to standards for raw materials, products and waste products or emissions.

Once construction begins, they work to oversee the process. And as modifications need to be made and maintenance performed, the Tailings Engineer will continue to be there, ensuring that the tailings stay exactly where they’re meant to be.

The kinds of problems Tailings Engineers solve at work:

Because of the long timeframes for which tailings ponds are built, keeping them maintained is essential. In the event of mechanical failures or unexpected maintenance problems, Tailings Engineers need to travel to the site to assess the problem, then design new processes or equipment to address the problem’s original cause.

Skills used most on the job:

At minimum, a Tailings Engineer requires a bachelor’s degree in mechanical or chemical engineering and has to be registered as a Professional Engineer. At most, they may require a master’s degree or doctorate. This highly technical engineering background forms the backbone of an engineer’s skills, and pairs with their ability to work with technologists and other engineers to realize their vision for a comprehensive tailings strategy.

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