Main content area

Reanalysis of aerial deposition of metals and polycyclic aromatic compounds to snow in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region of Alberta Canada

McNaughton, Cameron S., Vandenberg, Jerry, Thiede, Peter
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.682 pp. 692-708
arithmetics, aromatic compounds, bitumen, emissions, emissions factor, geometry, mining, nickel, oil sands, petroleum, polycyclic compounds, snow, snowpack, vanadium, Alberta
Oil sands mining and bitumen upgrading activities in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) have been identified as sources of metals and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAC) being deposited to the regional snowpack. We performed an independent reanalysis of publicly available AOSR snow pack data to: replicate previous results; to provide new insights into the spatial and temporal patterns of metal and PAC deposition; and, to determine whether certain metals or PACs were associated with specific oil sands mining or upgrading activities.Using PAC ratios, we use a K-means clustering approach to classify snowpack data into two combustion-dominated classes, and three classes associated with oil sands mining and bitumen upgrading. Snow samples dominated by “oil sands mine” emissions are consistent with a petrogenic source and exhibited low UNS ratios and high DBT ratios. Snow samples dominated by “petroleum coke” emissions had the highest BaP ratios, high DBT ratios, and were collected nearest the upgrader complexes. Metals data indicate snow samples dominated by oil sands mine emissions are consistent with an Athabasca Sands type composition. Those dominated by emissions from petroleum coke show enrichment of biophile metals V, Ni, and M. We conclude that previous studies have over-estimated environmental loadings of PACs, their spatial extent, and direction of their trend over time. These differences are attributed to the use of arithmetic rather than geometric spatial averaging, use of an arbitrary location (AR6) to determine the extent of metals and PAC deposition, and because previous studies neglected to account for metals and PACs being deposited from non-oil sands sources. Oil sands operators continue to reduce their emissions intensity, however there is an emerging consensus that mitigating fugitive emissions from petroleum coke stockpiles may represent the greatest opportunity to reduce environmental loadings of PACs in the AOSR.