In 2003, stakeholders in the oil sands industry recognized the need to mitigate the vast amount of disturbed land and quantity of oil sands tailings being stored. Limited progress with respect to improved tailings management was seen as an impediment to the future success of the oil sands industry. Dr. Dave Sego and the University of Alberta's Geotechnical Centre understood that substantial fundamental tailings research at a pilot scale using tailings manufactured to a research specification held the key to sustainable and cost-effective utilization of the oil sands resources.

Initially a meeting to discuss the need for a focused effort related to tailings was held with H. Hamza, Ted Lord and Dave Sego in attendance. The next Workshop meeting on November 6, 2002, brought together a broader group from industry and the concept of the Oil Sands Tailings Research Facility (OSTRF) was developed. They envisioned that the OSTRF would provide the innovative and novel research required to develop the next generation of environmentally superior tailings disposal options. They also desired that the facility supply early career, technically competent staff for the oil sands industry. The OSTRF facilitates the research projects of several researchers at the University of Alberta who are investigating different environmental aspects of oil sands tailings reclamation. Dr. Sego became the Principal Investigator of the OSTRF (2003-2009).

From 2003 to 2009, the research themes for the OSTRF included:

  • Tailings Production: MFT, CT, Paste, Separators and Thickeners

  • Engineered Tailings: Deposition, Dewatering (Natural Processes), Rapid Progressive Reclamation and Sustainability

  • Water: Recovery, Reuse and Release

  • Interdependency: Extraction- Tailings- Environment

  • Energy: Recovery and GHG Reduction

  • Instrumentation: Tailings process, Disposal and Reclamation

  • Regional Impacts: Stakeholders, Landscapes and Certification

  • By-products

From 2010 to 2015, Dr. G. Ward Wilson was the Principal Investigator of the OSTRF. Under his tenure, strategic research relationships were further established between the University of Alberta Geotechnical Centre, industry, the government regulator and other universities. He spearheaded the establishment of the NSERC/COSIA Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Oil Sands Tailings Geotechnique in 2013, which is in effect until 2024. The scope of the current IRC program is available here.

Dr. Nicholas Beier is the current Principal Investigator (2016 to present). He has expanded the OSTRF's research scope to include landform design and tailings dam safety through a project with the Alberta Energy Regulator.


The OSTRF is owned by the University of Alberta and sponsored by Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). The Facility is located in Devon, Alberta, Canada, in a unique partnership using shared facilities with Alberta Innovates and Natural Resources Canada's CanmetENERGY Devon Research Centre.

In 2002, funding for the OSTRF's $2.3 million worth of capital infrastructure came from a Canada Foundation for Innovation grant (federal government), Natural Resources Canada, Alberta Science and Research Investment Program (Government of Alberta) and oil sands industry partners (Syncrude, Suncor, Albian and True North Energy). Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Deer Creek Energy Limited (Total E&P Canada Ltd.) and FortHills Energy LP have subsequently provided capital funds for the OSTRF. Yearly operational and research funding is provided by COSIA as well as in-kind support from CANMET and Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions.

Locating the OSTRF adjacent to CANMET has allowed for closer collaboration with its 55 scientific personnel and access to $20 million in state-of-the-art scientific research equipment and infrastructure. Students are exposed to CANMET's active tailings research program at the OSTRF and have opportunities to understand the oil sands industry from a number of different perspectives.

OSTRF Sponsor Links

Sponsor Opportunities

If your organization is interested in joining the OSTRF as a sponsor please contact Nicholas Beier.