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
Putting Reclamation Numbers Into Perspective
Given that one square kilometre is 100 hectares, about 953 square kilometres of land was disturbed thus far by oil sands development up to 2016.
According to the figures above, approximately 10,150 hectares of developed oilsands – about 11% of total disturbed land - was in some stage of the reclamation process.
It is important to note that of the 142,000 km2 (or 14.2 million hectares of land underlain by the oilsands, only 4,800 km2, or 3% of the total land surface area could ever be disturbed by mining operations. Furthermore, in-situ, which disturbs only 10 to 15% of land compared to a mine, will be used for a majority of future oilsands development.
As of 2019, total hectares reclaimed are without a doubt higher as major oil sands producers release annual stewardship reports detailing land reclamation. For example, in the latest rounds of 2018 / 2019, three major oil sands producers reported:
> 4,800 hectares total – Syncrude – to date, 3,800 hectares of permanently reclaimed land with an additional 1,000 hectares capped with soil and ready for vegetation
+ 2,621 hectares total – Suncor – since 2014, Suncor has reclaimed or is in the process of reclaiming over 2,600 hectares of land
+ 8,193 hectares total – Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. – Since 2010, CNRL has reclaimed nearly 8,200 hectares in North American exploration and production lands
= 15,614 hectares reported reclaimed / reclamation underway by only 3 oil sands producers
Does Only Certified Reclamation Matter?
When some special interest and environmental groups ask how much of the oilsands has been reclaimed, they only point to the “certified statistic,” i.e. the one that takes decades to happen.
It’s important to note that to gain certified status, the landowner first must apply to the government for official certification. The subjected area then must demonstrate it has become a self-sustaining ecosystem and be hospitable for wildlife.
This doesn’t happen overnight. Gaining certified reclamation status from the Alberta government is a lengthy process and can involve years of rigorous construction, surveys, studies and tests.
There's a reason why groups come to Canada to see how the Alberta Energy Regulator does things. Because we do it right and get the job done, even if it requires years to complete.
Canada is an Environmental Leader and the World Knows It
Canadian oil and gas companies are held to some of the highest environmental rules and regulations in the world. Other countries know that, and many would prefer to get their oil and natural gas imports from Canada for those very reasons.
Canada was also recently ranked as the second most responsible oil producer in the world. But still, special interest and environmental groups disproportionately target Canada’s world-class oil and gas industry that has GHG emissions which pale in comparison to global cement production or the transportation industry, for example.
Maybe the next time these groups ask how much of the oil sands has been reclaimed, they will ask the same question to most other top 10 oil producing and exporting nations of the world. How many leases in those oil-producing countries have been reclaimed or are undergoing reclamation?
Canada's exemplary regulatory framework and transparency required in natural resource production is the reason why we have such detailed information about reclaimed land in the oil sands.
Could we say the same thing about other major top 10 oil exporters?