Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Alberta Certifies Its FIRST Oil Sands Site Reclamation - Yahoo!

This is a monumental and critically important milestone day in the history of the development of the Alberta oil sands. After 40 years of development of the oil sands, at last there is a 104 hectare parcel of land that the Government of Alberta has certified as reclaimed.

This day has been a long time coming – partly because land restoration takes a long time, and partly because we have been in the project building and development stages. Now that some of the bigger projects are well into sustained production, it is time to pay serious attention to the reclamation duties that are part of the project approval obligations.

The first oil sands licensee to get a certified reclamation project accomplished and approved is Syncrude!!! Congratulations! And the same congratulations go out to the Alberta government departments of the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development for ensuring that the reclamation is real.

Reclamation is part of the oil sands project deals and a legal requirement. It is a key consideration towards keeping the Alberta public’s confidence under the social license to operate for all oil sands project developers too. Remediation is more than filling the hole that the open pit oil sands mining projects create. Reclamation requires that the land be restored such a way that it can be productive again and that means it must able to support a range of activities similar to its previous use.

The Syncrude certified reclamation site was not a tailing pond infill. The reclaimed site was used to collect overburden formed when open pit mining sites are being dug and this reclamation site work started way back in 1983 when the first seedling replacement trees were planted. This approval is not for the reclamation of a tailing pond. That is a huge looming challenge with many serious issues that have yet to be tackled…but it is time to get on with them now too.

Political and public pressure has started and will be increasing as the oil sands move past capital cost recovery and into profitable production. Some of the profits have to be dedicated to the larger and more serious site reclamation challenge of tailing ponds and that work needs focus and to be accelerated dramatically. Oil ands companies who choose short term oil sands profit taking and also deferring reclamation duties is not an acceptable operating model for Albertans.

Oils sands site reclamation was recognized one of the very important value drivers for Albertans in our Oils Sands Survey. It is and a serious concern of Albertans about how we see our government and the oil sands project developers proceed towards responsible and sustainable stewardship of our oil sands resources. Now that reclamation has started expect it to be a big public policy and political pressure point for the Government of Alberta as it regulates and stewards our non-renewable oil sands resources.

Good to see this essential oil sands reclamation process finally officially happening. It is a start and from now on I expect we will see site reclamation as a growing and expanded trend for all oils sands operators who will be more focused and attentive to their reclamation obligations from now on.


  1. Anonymous10:25 am

    Hi Ken,

    As an albertan and employee of an environmental consulting company that does this type of work I'm very pleased read this news.

    The tailings ponds, as you mentioned, are another story and will be very, very difficult to remediate and reclaim. I'm no expert but I would guess that these sites will be monitored for life.

    Remediation technologies will need to be improved and I would suggest that the government invest in research aimed at remediating O & G sites after they are put to bed.

    Do you know of any government programs currently in place that send $$ for research in this field?

    Jarrett Leinweber

  2. one alberta voter2:16 pm

    Environmental advocates have been saying for the last few months that not a single hectare of tarsands operations has ever been certified reclaimed. Do you suppose that, and the embarrassment those claims have caused the government, had anything to do with the timing of this certification? Oh go one - how could I be so cynical?

  3. No I do not think the GOA timing on certification has anything to do with the commentary on the lack of reclamation activity.

    Only one application for certification has been received so far and that happened before the election. It was not rubber stamped. I understand that when it was received it was not found to be acceptable at first.

    I think there was no political interference in this mattter at all. If there was you would think the announcement would have come out before or during the election - definitely not afterwards.

  4. Anonymous3:35 pm

    It is good news - albeit there is a long way to go. I still think the Government is crazy to not tie the right to disturb more land to some demonstrated reclamation, in the same way the forest industry's annual cut is contingent on them meeting last years replanting requirement.

    Still, reclamation is only half of the land management equation, when do you think we are going to see Government movement on permanently setting aside some of northern Alberta's boreal forest as conservation zones. From media reports a few weeks ago it seems even industry recognizes this, but the government's (or Alberta Energy's) fanatical and dogmatic "leave no barrel of bitumen behind" approach seems to still not get this.

    Even with good reclamation 50 years in the future, it is still not appropriate to dig up and extract through insitu all 140,000km2, just because its there.

  5. I'm admit I'm considerably more cynical about the timing than you are, Ken.
    According to the Edm Journal story,, "A freedom-of-information request by The Journal showed the process started 10 years ago."
    And then, after a few weeks of media attention during the election, 104 ha are certified. Curious.

  6. b-nichol - Syncrude started to reclamation of this site in 1983 with the planting of the first seedlings - trees take time to grow and without trees you don't have reclamation.

    I know the application was made for certification before Christmas. That would have been a better time to annoucement this politically - not now.

  7. Anonymous7:27 pm

    Go Morton!!! He has done a great job on this file.

  8. Yes indeed - I expect Dr. Morton has had a hand in the success of this terrific event.

  9. Anonymous12:33 pm

    Hi Ken

    you seem to be fairly knowledgeable about the certification and its chronological timelines.Has there been something significant in the last while by Syncrude that warranted their certification so as to dispell the "cynical timing" theory.You have a link to Syncrude,is there one showing their Reclamation discipline??this would certainly silence the critics

  10. I do not have such a link and suggest it would not silence the critics anyway. This issue of reclamation is very complex and delaying it only makes it worse.

    I think there would be commentary in the Suncor and Syncrue CSR documents on reclamation.

    CNRL, Shell and Imperial Oil - all with open pits or proposals for them need to show some serious postive and substantial reclamation action very quickly to keep theie social licenses in the public's mind.