Our environmental programs and initiatives reflect an awareness of the value of biodiversity. Through these, we work to ensure our operations do not have a long-term, permanent impact on local ecosystems. Through our reclamation activities, we re-establish native vegetation and wildlife habitats similar to those that excised prior to disturbance of the area.
Syncrude operations must adhere to environmental regulations, including the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, and Alberta Wildlife Act. As well, every 10 years, Syncrude must obtain operating approval by submitting a detailed plan outlining how we will steward to government requirements regarding environmental protection, reclamation and mine closure. Compliance reporting and amendments are submitted midway through the reporting period.
Syncrude operates within a large tract of wilderness in northern Alberta’s boreal forest and employs a number of strategies to deter wildlife from our sites. These include our waterfowl protection plan, and restrictions on the handling of food and food waste.
Regular reminders are communicated to employees and contractors outlining the danger of feeding wildlife and improper disposal of refuse.
We are required by law to report sightings and wildlife incidents occurring on our site to regulators. In situations where distressed wildlife is found, the animal is assessed and appropriate action is taken under the guidance of Fish and Wildlife officials from Alberta Environment and Parks.
Regular reminders are communicated to employees and contractors outlining the danger of feeding wildlife and improper disposal of refuse. Other measures used to deter wildlife include regular garbage pick-up, scare cannons and the transport of non-hazardous waste to the municipal landfill.
Our operations are not located within the range of Alberta’s woodland caribou herds or the proposed protection zones of the draft Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population. While we do not participate in multi-stakeholder groups formed to research and monitor this issue, we do keep abreast of evolving policy development.
Please refer to our current Sustainability Report for more information on our wildlife protection strategies.
Research and Wildlife Studies
We recognize the value of multi-stakeholder approaches to monitor and mitigate industry impacts on the environment. Syncrude funding supports the work of several groups and initiatives, including the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA), and we actively participate in a number of initiatives underway through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). This includes, for example, the Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chairs Program to improve biodiversity science in the boreal forest and research on assessing regional wildlife corridors.
Waterfowl and Bird Protection
Measures are in place to protect local birds and deter migrating waterfowl from our site.
We follow a number of procedures to deter waterfowl and other birds from coming in contact with bitumen on our process ponds and tailings areas. Propane-fired cannons and falcon effigies are placed in the water and on the shoreline of ponds. Radar monitoring systems, similar to those used at airports, are also in place which automatically activate our deterrent system when birds are detected in the area. This includes HyperSpike acoustic devices capable of projecting precise, directional sound towards areas of bird activity detected by radar.
Monitoring occurs on a full-time basis throughout the migration period and, if necessary, pyrotechnic flare guns, airhorns and boat movement are deployed.
As per environmental regulation, vegetation cannot be cleared during the migratory songbird nesting and rearing season unless field surveys indicate an absence of nesting activity.
There are a number of initiatives underway to monitor wildlife throughout the oil sands region, including Syncrude reclamation areas.
For example, we research songbird health and populations through the Institute for Bird Populations’ Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program. This program monitors numbers, habitat development, bird reproduction and survivorship in reclaimed areas and compares it with natural habitats. Preliminary results indicate a healthy presence of songbirds in our reclaimed areas.
We also monitor the wildlife that has returned to our reclaimed land to ensure restoration practices are creating attractive habitat for species to return. Regulators require this data as part of the government certification process.
Stations equipped with motion-detection cameras recorded the presence of 14 mammal species on our reclamation areas in 2017. Over the years, we've observed an abundance of wildlife including white-tailed and mile deer, coyote, black bear, gray wolf, Canada lynx, moose, fisher, mink, muskrat, red fox, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, American marten, weasel, northern river otter, beaver and raccoon.
Several programs and research initiatives have been established in northeastern Alberta to assess and monitor the cumulative environmental effects of industrial development at a regional scale. This work is undertaken by government and stakeholders such as Aboriginal communities, industry, environmental advocacy groups, and health organizations, and includes groups such as the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA).