2001 Winner: Innovation In Oil Sands Research Sponsored By Syncrude Canada Ltd.
Dr. Donald Sheeran is an industry leader whose contributions have significantly impacted the oil sands extraction process. He was instrumental in developing an innovative system designed to alleviate a tailings pond dilemma that threatened the oil sands industry. The extraction of bitumen, heavy oil, from oil sands ore, produces tailings.
Tailings are a mixture of sand, water and finely dispersed solids, mostly clay. After being pumped to a disposal site, course sand quickly settles and the water is recycled to the extraction process. The remaining materials require permanent containment in tailings ponds. These ponds would require centuries of maintenance and monitoring. From an environmental, technical, financial and public relations point of view, this is unacceptable.
Dr. Sheeran led a group of scientists and engineers from industry, academia and research organizations in finding a solution to the problem. He and his colleagues developed the Composite Tails (CT) process, which significantly reduces tailings segregation and facilitates reclamation of tailings landforms. Further research is now being conducted on the self-sufficiency of the new landforms. With more than two decades devoted to the oil sands industry, Dr. Sheeran has a long-standing reputation for excellence in his field. He has authored or co-authored over 25 publications, primarily about the properties and behaviour of clay soils. A leader of several research and development activities, Dr. Sheeran’s extensive knowledge and expertise has made him a true champion in the oil sands industry.