Lee S. Barbour

Department of Civil and Geological Engineering
University of Saskatchewan

Chair title

NSERC/Syncrude Canada Ltd. Industrial Research Chair in Hydrogeological Characterization of Oil Sands Mine Closure Landforms

Chair program

Industrial Research Chairs program


Senior Chairholder since 2012


The oil sands industry strengthens the Canadian economy and provides a secure oil supply for Canada; however, these benefits come with environmental challenges. Open-pit mining of oil sands is occurring at unprecedented scales, creating entirely new upland landscapes of mine waste, covering hundreds of square kilometres at each site. There is no known precedent for reclaiming landscapes at this scale and the movement of groundwater through these upland structures is undefined. Current mine closure plans rely on end pit lakes or wetlands to collect surface and groundwater from these new landscapes prior to release; however, the impact of groundwater flow from the uplands on the quality of these surface waters is unknown.

The goal of this research is the characterization of the magnitude, rate, pathway, and chemistry of groundwater released from these reclaimed, oil sands mine landforms. This research will provide critical insights to industry that will guide mine closure plans in an environmentally sustainable manner. The new methods of investigation and monitoring developed in this research will provide new tools for industry to track the performance of these landscapes into the future.

Lee Barbour is a civil engineer with more than 30 years of research and industrial experience in geoenvironmental engineering, working on issues of water and contaminant transport within the vadose zone—the soil from the surface to the water table. For the past 12 years, he has led multidisciplinary research into the performance of reclamation soil covers at oil sands mine sites. Syncrude Canada is fully committed to this effort and will actively support the research through the collaboration of their Environmental Research and Development Team, which is comprised of research scientists from a range of disciplines. The company is also providing on-site logistical support, as well as instrumentation, drilling, sample collection, transportation, and data gathering. Strong university and college support will integrate the Industrial Research Chair (IRC) with new research engagements in the area of mining and the environment, and water security.

The focus of Dr. Barbour's IRC program is on physical hydrogeology. A subsequent Associate IRC will focus on the related geochemical issues. While oil sands mining is the initial area of study, this work can also be applied to coal and metal mining, in which leaching of contaminants of unsaturated waste rock and tailings is of environmental concern.


  • Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Contact information

Department of Civil and Geological Engineering
University of Saskatchewan
Engineering Bldg, Room 3B48.3
57 Campus Dr.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
S7N 5A9

Tel.: 306-966-5369
Fax: 306-966-5410


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