Research studies with universities from across North America are assisting in the development of the largest reclaimed fen watershed in the oil sands industry.
Reclamation of our former East Mine area is ongoing. This area is approximately 11.5 square kilometres in size and is bordered by Highway 63 south of our main plant site and upgrader. It was part of our original operation when Syncrude began its production in 1978.
Fens are an important type of peat land found in the boreal forest.
Composite tailings technology is being used to reclaim this area. Placement began in 2000 and was complete in 2011. Sand capping to established closure drainage is ongoing. A 54-hectare fen wetland research project has been constructed at the northwest end of this area. Soil and woody debris have been placed and locally collected seeds spread throughout the area. Various tree and shrub species have been planted. These include: trembling aspen, jack pine, white spruce, chokecherry, slough grass and fen water sedge. A 65-hectare area directly east of the fen project is currently undergoing reclamation.
Fens are an important type of peat land found in the boreal forest. This large scale reconstruction effort is the first of its kind in the world and underscores our commitment to return the land we disturb to a condition similar to that prior to disturbance
In our former West Mine area, also part of our original operation, reclamation has begun using the method of capping fluid fine tails with water. Research indicates that, over time, a water-capped lake will develop and evolve into a healthy aquatic environment.
How does rough mulching aid reclamation?
A new salvaging technique is helping to avoid soil compaction on reclamation areas and create diverse microsites for plants and animals. Before soil salvage, the tops and stumps of non-merchantable trees are recovered using a method called “rough mulching.” This adds large pieces of woody debris into the cover soil. When soil is being placed, this coarse material creates surface roughness. This, in turn, creates microsites and moisture traps for vegetation and erosion control. There is also faster self-establishment of native plant species from the seed bank and various propagules present in the soil. This technique was piloted for three years on small-scale projects, and then integrated into all reclamation activities starting in 2011.
Research guides the future
Research continues on a number of watersheds established on our reclaimed land. Syncrude contributes financial grants to Canadian and U.S. universities to conduct research on these watersheds. This supports the long-term data collection, instrument maintenance and database management of soil, climate and hydrology monitoring of these areas.
Results are used extensively in closure modelling, landscape and soil cover design, and revegetation practices. For example, the construction experience from the fen pilot project will contribute to the reclamation plans of the remaining East Mine area. Additionally, the results from these watersheds inform updates of all the reclamation guidance documents in the region as well as the knowledge base of reclamation practitioners at Syncrude and other oil sands operators.