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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.