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Chairholder Profile

Ward Wilson

Ward Wilson

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Alberta

Chair Title

NSERC / COSIA Industrial Research Chair in Oil Sands Tailings Geotechnique

Chair Program

Industrial Research Chairs Program


Senior Industrial Research Chairholder since 2013


The oil sands are viewed as a vital component of the Canadian economy. At the same time, the environmental impacts of oil sands operations are growing. Tailings impoundments are used almost exclusively for waste management, and the combined footprint of the oil sands impoundments in Alberta is currently more than 182 km2. Processed oil sands ore yields a tailings slurry composed of water, sand, silt and clay (or "fines"), and a small amount of residual bitumen. The tailings are discharged into a settling basin, where the sand fraction settles quickly to form a beach and the balance of fine tailings collect in the pond. The Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), founded by oil sands producers, established the Tailings Environmental Priority Area in order to improve the management of oil sands tailings. COSIA has partnered with the University of Alberta to develop approaches to accelerate the reclamation of tailings ponds.

Upon consultation with industry, four major areas of innovative research were identified for this Chair program:

  • studying the unsaturated soil mechanical properties of oil sands tailings;
  • investigating consolidation processes for various forms of fluid fine tailings, mature fine tailings (MFT) and amended MFT;
  • assessing and improving tailings deposition; and
  • understanding the long-term geotechnical behaviour of fine tailings through laboratory testing and simulations.

The projects carried out under this Chair research program will provide Canada's oil sands industry, its regulators and consultants with the following: novel technologies to measure the effectiveness of current tailings remediation efforts; new and innovative processes for reducing the amount of post-production tailings; increased understanding of the long-term geotechnical behaviour of fluid fine tailings; and tailings simulation models and unsaturated soil mechanical models to assist with tailings planning and management. Furthermore, the research program will give rise to new field investigation techniques and will enable fundamental discoveries related to the behaviour and improved management of fluid fine tailings. These developments will benefit the engineering discipline and bolster Canada's position as an international leader in mining reclamation and oil sands tailings geotechnique.

Dr. Ward Wilson, Professor of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, brings over 25 years of industrial experience to his research work in advanced mine waste geotechnique and unsaturated soil mechanics. An internationally recognized expert in acid rock drainage, soil cover systems for mine waste management, and long-term closure of tailings and waste rock, he led the development of the comprehensive numerical model "SoilCover" (under Canada's Mine Environment Neutral Drainage program) used for the prediction of soil cover performance. In addition, he recently served as the lead author responsible for the Prevention and Mitigation chapter in the Global Acid Rock Drainage Guide prepared for the International Network for Acid Prevention. Since 2010, Dr. Wilson has been Principal Investigator at the Oil Sands Tailings Research Facility (OSTRF). In this capacity, Dr. Wilson directs and coordinates collaborative research between industry, government and academic partners undertaken to develop and evaluate scientific, technical and methodological solutions to support and enhance the Alberta oil sands industry's ability to manage and mitigate environmental risks associated with oil sands tailings. Dr. Wilson's work at the OSTRF has a significant impact on the responsible and sustainable development of one of Canada's major natural resources.


  • Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA)
  • Tailings Environmental Priority Area (EPA)
  • Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions

Contact Information

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Alberta
3-133 Markin/CNRL Natural Resources Engineering Facility
Edmonton, Alberta
T6G 2W2

Tel.: 780-492-2534
Fax: 780-492-0249

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