Constructed wetlands graphic: Image Credit: Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable

A Canada-wide team of researchers is looking to harness the power of ecosystem services in the natural environment to clean up process-affected water from oilsands operations in the Athabasca region of northern Alberta.

The researchers note that recent legislation has outlined a reclamation closure time frame for oilsands operators to “restore the landscape”, which means interest has grown in efficient, affordable and large-scale “green” remediation technologies.

“The surface mining of oilsands is a large industry in the Athabasca region of northern Alberta. While no release is currently allowed, future legislation will require operators to restore the water before release, and to remediate the landscape,” the researchers announced in a statement to media.

Supported by a grant from Genome Canada, researchers hope to determine the optimal wetland biological communities to degrade and detoxify contaminants through constructed wetland treatment systems. To clean up large volumes of process-affected water (with toxic naphthenic acids), the team will aim to increase their understanding of the genes and mechanisms associated with the biodegradation of naphthenic acids and the genomics in the vegetation, soils and organisms that could filter and process suspended solids and trace metals.

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The project is led by Douglas Muench from the University of Calgary and Christine Martineau from Natural Resources Canada, with assistance from Dr. Jason MacLean at the University of New Brunswick, and Dr. Graham Strickert, assistant professor in the USask School of Environment and Sustainability.

The team is examining the feasibility of genomics-enhanced treatment wetlands through multiple lenses. A section of the team, led by Dr. Lori Bradford at USask, is studying the social sciences aspect of the research to explore legal, social and economic gaps in knowledge and practice.

“With a window opening for people to have their say in the technologies we use to restore landscapes, and the regulations used to monitor and measure that restoration, the time for this project is now,” said Bradford in a statement from the University of Saskatchewan.


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