Heather Kaminsky

Heather Kaminsky

Office of Research and Innovation
Northern Alberta Inst. of Technology

Chair title

NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Oil Sands Tailings Management

Chair program

Industrial Research Chair for Colleges


Chairholder since 2019


The accumulation of fluid fine tailings (FFT) in the oil sands industry is a major risk for operators and stakeholders alike. Industry regulations require operators to progressively treat tailings deposits so that they are ready to reclaim within 10 years of end of mine life. With the first two mines set to close in 2032, oil sands operators will be required to treat more than 1 BM3 of FFT by 2030 while reducing the total amount of fluid tailings produced from approximately 1 barrel FFT / barrel oil produced to approximately 0.75 barrel FFT / barrel oil produced to meet their regulatory approvals. This aggressive goal has created a need for increased process optimization and new technology development. Dr. Heather Kaminsky, the NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges (IRCC) in Oil Sands Tailings Management at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), is a neutral third party working to help validate and de-risk these new technologies to achieve the goal of developing comprehensive solutions to the FFT problem.

Clays are the biggest driver of FFT development. Hence, over the next five years the Chair's research program will explore the importance of clays in tailings management through three themes:

  1. Clay chemistry fundamentals
  2. Chemical amendments
  3. Physical processes for tailings dewatering

In particular, the Chair’s program will look for new technologies to measure clays, model the impact of clays on tailings production and treatment, and develop high throughput, low cost screening methods to assess the effectiveness of chemical amendments and physical processes in dewatering oil sands tailings.

Dr. Kaminsky has extensive professional research experience in each of the three themes mentioned above. She holds a PhD in chemical and materials engineering from the University of Alberta on “Characterization of Oil Sands Ores and Their Process Streams.” She also has an established track record of leading oil sands research at Total E&P Canada and Suncor Energy. Dr. Kaminsky is a recognized expert in tailings management techniques and an avid collaborator, demonstrated by her leadership of the Clay Working Group for the Canadian Oil Sands Network for Research and Development (CONRAD) and, subsequently, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

Dr. Kaminsky is passionate about oil sands tailings and is excited to have put together a consortium of partners who each play a role in solving the challenges associated with FFT. COSIA represents all the oil sands operators who have FFT and will provide tailings and direction on treatment priorities, challenges faced with current and proposed technologies and the usefulness of developed screening techniques. Graymont, SNF and BASF represent three vendors of chemicals that can be used to treat FFT and will provide chemicals and perspective on the challenges of bringing a new technology to market. Bureau Veritas, an analytical lab that performs characterization and evaluation testing surrounding tailings performance, will provide feedback on the feasibility and clarity of developed lab methods. Enersoft is a company developing innovative systems to characterize geological cores and is interested in applying the technology to the challenges of tailings. Thurber Engineering is a geotechnical consulting firm that will provide insight on how developed methods can be used to monitor and design tailings impoundments.

Finally, a key component of the IRCC program is a close collaboration with Dr. Ward Wilson, the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Oil Sands Tailings Geotechnique. In this collaboration, new information developed in Dr. Wilson’s program will be brought into the screening techniques developed by Dr. Kaminsky. In addition, students in Dr. Wilson’s program will be supported with the additional characterization and process knowledge and capacity brought by Dr. Kaminsky and her team at NAIT.


  • Graymont
  • Enersoft
  • SNF
  • BASF Corp.
  • Bureau Veritas
  • Thurber Engineering

Contact information

Office of Research and Innovation
Northern Alberta Inst. of Technology



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