Oil Sands Reclamation in Canada: 22 Facts

oil sands land reclamation before and after

Canada’s oil sands have long been in the limelight but for all the wrong reasons. For example, not many people know about the oil sands’ world-class reclamation requirements that, in some instances, have seen open-pit mines transform into grazing pastures where now over 300 bison live and roam.

Why don’t we hear about these success stories more often? It’s hard to say, but what we do know is you’ll be hardpressed to find another oil and gas sector anywhere else in the world with such stringent regulatory requirements as those seen in Canada.

Home to the third-largest proven recoverable reserves, Canada is the fourth-largest oil producer and exporter in the world. With these titles come incredible responsibility – to develop and extract these natural resources using the most environmentally friendly methods possible.

Land reclamation activities in the oil sands are just one part of a complex and multi-faceted approach by Canada’s oil and gas sector to continually improve its environmental performance. Also see:

What is Oil Sands Reclamation?

bison roaming on reclaimed oilsands mine - COSIA

Oil sands land reclamation is defined as “the process of attempting to return land used for oil sands mining back to its original, natural state.” The Government of Alberta requires operators to reclaim 100 per cent of the land after the oil sands have been extracted.

Land reclamation in the oil sands starts long before any in-situ wells are drilled or mines are constructed. Operators are required to submit detailed land reclamation plans as part of their request for approval of a project.

After operations cease, the steps involved in oil and gas land reclamation in Canada include:

> Re-shaping the land, including the creation of new drainage systems

> Replacing subsoil, topsoil and organic material salvaged before land disturbance

> Re-seeding and planting of vegetation

> Monitoring of water and soil quality + vegetation growth

Now that you’re more familiar with what land reclamation looks like in Canada’s oil and gas industry, here are several more facts for you to check out.

22 Oil Sands Reclamation Facts

oil sands tree planting 26 million trees between 2009 and 2018

#1 - Canadian oil sands development is subject to some of the strictest environmental regulatory standards globally that require 100% land reclamation after operations cease. (Natural Resources Canada - NRC)

#2 - Reclamation in Canada’s oil sands starts long before operations begin; operators are required to submit detailed reclamation plans as part of their request for project approval. (Government of Alberta - GoA)

#3 - According to the latest data from the Alberta government (2016), the active footprint of various stages of oilsands reclamation and disturbance was:

> Total active footprint – 95,301.5 hectares

> Ready for reclamation – 376.5 hectares

> Soils placed (terrestrial & wetlands & aquatics) – 1,450.2 hectares

> Permanent reclamation – 5,063.3 hectares

> Permanent reclamation (wetlands & aquatics) – 1,275.5 hectares

> Temporary reclamation – 1,896.3 hectares

> Certified reclamation – 104 hectares

#4 - The Government of Alberta has committed to conserving and protecting more than 2 million hectares (20,000 square kilometres [km2] or 7,722 square miles [mi2]) (GoA)

#5 - There is almost 4.5 million hectares (44,800 km2 or 17,300 mi2) of federally protected land - Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada - located just north of the oil sands. (NRC)

#6 - Oil sands mine operators are required to supply reclamation security bonds to ensure they meet requirements. Reclamation certificates are only issued if monitoring through time demonstrates that these particular lands meet the criteria to return to self-sustaining ecosystems.

#7 - Throughout the reclamation process, soil, surface water and groundwater are tested to ensure the reclaimed land is not contaminated and does not pose a risk to the environment, health or safety. (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers - CAPP)

#8 - The lifespan of oil sands mining projects ranges from 40 to 80 years, while in-situ projects run from 10 to 15 years, meaning that much of the industry’s land reclamation activity is an ongoing process. (NRC, CAPP)

#9 - Land reclamation can take many years or even decades, depending on how the land functioned before it was disturbed, i.e., native grassland, farm land, peatland, or forested land. (Alberta Energy Regulator - AER)

97% of oil sands land development area is developed using in-situ methods

#10 - Since oil sands operations began in the 1960s, approximately 8 per cent of land disturbed by mining has been or is being reclaimed. (CAPP)

#11 - Oil sands producers collectively planted more than 26 million trees as part of land reclamation efforts between 2009 and 2018. (Bank of Montreal Capital Markets - BMO)

#12 - Since 2009, the Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative (OSVC), which supports the successful reclamation of disturbed areas in the oil sands, has banked: (CAPP)

I. - 50 species of vegetation

II. - Nearly 11,000 litres of fruit/seed

III. - 231 million seeds for approximately 31.6 million seedlings

#13 - Reclamation of a former oil sands mine 1,150 hectares in size has been ongoing since 2000, with revegetation expected to be complete by around 2025. (Syncrude)

#14 - Between 2016 and 2020, a major oil sands producer reclaimed 9,927 hectares of land. (Cenovus, 2020)

#15 - To date, a major oil sands producer has cumulatively reclaimed 4,762 hectares of land. (Syncrude, 2020)

#16 - Between 2016 and 2020, a major oil sands producer has reclaimed 9,200 hectares of land in North America, equivalent in size to about 11,300 Canadian football fields. To date, the same producer has reclaimed 1,981 hectares of oil sands operations. (CNRL, 2020)

#17 - Between 2016 and 2020, a major oil sands producer has allocated $2.5 million to caribou restoration and is committed to investing at least $300,000 annually to the same cause between 2021 and 2025. (MEG, 2021)

#18 - Between 2015 and 2019, a major oil sands producer reclaimed a cumulative 805 hectares of land (Imperial, 2021)

#19 - Since 1967, a major oil sands producer has reclaimed a cumulative 2,850 hectares of land. (Suncor, 2021)

The World Needs More Canadian Energy!

Canada is a global leader on environmental, social and governance metrics

Land reclamation in the oil sands is just one of many examples of Canada’s global leadership on environmental initiatives. As a matter of fact, Canada outperforms the world’s top 15 oil reserve holders on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

With projected growth for oil and gas demand over the next several years, it only makes sense that the world gets its future energy needs from the most sustainable producers around.

Who would you choose to get your oil and gas from – suppliers like Canada with world-class reclamation requirements, collaboration and innovation, or from producers often with much weaker protections for the environment?

We choose Canada, and we hope you would too! After all, more Canadian oil and gas on global markets is good for our families AND the global environment. Learn more:

Join Us Today!

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