Our long-term vision is to create a landscape that sustains a healthy diversity of plants and animals, and supports a range of land uses. We are committed to ensuring the final reclaimed landscape has equivalent land capability, is integrated with the surrounding area, establishes boreal forest upland and lowland communities with characteristic biodiversity, yields water suitable for release to the natural environment, and is planned in direct consultation with local, directly affected communities.
We’ve reclaimed about 13 per cent of the land we’ve disturbed with plans to double that amount by the mid-2020s. We’ve reclaimed over 3,900 hectares of land to date and planted around 8.9 million trees and shrubs. An additional 975 hectares of land have been placed with soil and are now ready for revegetation.
A 2018 research study of ecosites on our reclaimed areas found the presence of 83 per cent of regional characteristic species. Of this, we have detected around 165 different boreal species in reclaimed uplands, including over 60 which have been identified by local Indigenous communities as possessing traditional value. On reclaimed wetlands, over 200 boreal wetland plant species have been recorded, including 17 species of moss and six species of liverworts.
In 2018, we reclaimed 160 hectares and planted around 405,000 seedlings, including five species of trees and 13 species of shrubs. We also added over 1,500 ratroot plants into wetland areas. We plan to reclaim a further 200 hectares of land in 2019.
Permanent Land Reclaimed (hectares)
Trees and Shrubs Planted (cumulative)
East Mine reclamation – creating a boreal fen
Reclamation of our former East Mine is ongoing. This area is approximately 11.5 km2 in size and bordered by Highway 63 south of our main plant site. Reclamation began in 2000 using composite tails, as the landform substrate or underlying layer, to fill in the mined-out pit. Revegetation of the area is expected to be complete around 2025.
This area includes the 57-hectare Sandhill Fen research watershed. After eight growing seasons, the plant community continues to develop and plant health is comparable to that found on a natural site. As well, a wide variety of wildlife has been observed, including rodents, bats, frogs, insects and birds.
An interdisciplinary, multi-university research team has been collaborating with us on the fen and there is evidence the ecosystem is becoming a net carbon accumulating system.
West Mine reclamation
Our former West Mine is under reclamation using end-pit lake technology, which places water on top of tailings to create an aquatic ecosystem. Research and monitoring is helping us to optimize and validate this technique, which is adapted from similar reclamation activities at mines around the world. Already, the water is home to a variety of aquatic life, including algae, insects and microscopic animals. Further discussion can be found in the Tailings section.
Creating cultural landscapes
We understand that local Indigenous communities expect reclaimed land to support traditional hunting, trapping and gathering for food, herbs and medicines. Towards this, consultation and engagement occurs through various activities. One example is the Reclamation Engagement Focus Group (REFG) through which local communities share traditional knowledge and on-the-ground input with Syncrude staff towards improving closure planning and reclamation outcomes.
Local seed collection
Our upland planting prescriptions include all eight tree species that naturally occur in the region as well as 25 shrub species. Plants are sourced through the Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative, which annually collects seeds from the local area. These seeds are then extracted, sorted and used in propagation at the Smoky Lake Forest Nursery. The plants then return to Syncrude as seedlings for use in reclamation.
research and collaboration
Syncrude invested $82.3 million on research and development efforts in 2018; of this, over half was directed to environmental projects such as our reclamation research programs and collaborative efforts through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). These include studies on: planting dwarf blueberry; natural regeneration of aspen planted on reclaimed areas; rates of species spread from reclamation soils rich in native propagules to those that have lesser species diversity; and water requirements by native tree species on reclaimed sites.
We also provide financial grants to Canadian and U.S. universities to assist us in advancing oil sands reclamation science. Among those are the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada)/Syncrude Industrial Research Chair in Mine Closure Geochemistry at the University of Saskatchewan and the NSERC/Syncrude Industrial Research Chair in Hydrogeological Characterization of Oil Sands Mine Closure Landforms at the University of Saskatchewan.
Stewarding to regulatory commitments
Syncrude stewards to the expectations of the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, which requires us to return the land we use to a productive capability equivalent to that of the pre-disturbance landscape. A mine closure plan is submitted to the government every ten years, with a mid-term update; a mine reclamation plan is submitted every three years, supplemented with annual progress reports.
We ensure end land use goals are consistent with objectives expressed in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and LARP policy documents, specifically: areas of land capability considered suitable for commercial timber production; areas considered suitable for traditional land uses such as hunting, trapping, fishing and harvesting; and wildlife habitat within the range of natural variability in the region.
|Cleared1 (cumulative hectares)||3,876||3,528||3,190||2,847||2,464|
|Disturbed: land used for mine or |
plant purposes1 (cumulative hectares)
|Total active footprint – |
mine and plant site footprint1
|Soils placed – land available for revegetation1 |
|Temporary reclamation1 |
|Permanent land reclaimed1 |
(hectares per year)
|Permanent land reclaimed1,3,4 |
|Trees and shrubs planted |
(# per year)
|Trees and shrubs planted |
1 For a full list of definitions regarding land use and reclamation in Alberta’s oil sands, visit www.osip.alberta.ca.
2 Reflects a land status change from soils placed to temporary reclamation.
3 Includes land certified by the Alberta Government.
4 Numbers reflect the addition of all newly reclaimed areas as well as any reclamation losses due to re-disturbance that may occur. Syncrude promotes early reclamation of unused land when practical. This may result in future re-disturbance of areas that have been reclaimed in the past. Reclaimed areas may be selected as project sites, pipeline or power line corridors, or work may be necessary to maintain the integrity of the underlying structure.
Note: Syncrude conducts quality assurance checks of reclamation data in support of the Alberta Government geospatial database submission requirement. This process involves survey and investigation to verify field conditions, interpretation of air photos and satellite imagery to adjust boundaries, and analysis of historic data and classification. This work can result in adjustments to previously reported information.