Biodiversity

Through wildlife monitoring and reclamation programs, our commitment to responsible environmental stewardship reflects an awareness of the importance and value of biodiversity in the region.

Our Performance

Biodiversity Graphic 1

Over 2,200 birds captured and released

at 8 monitoring stations on reclaimed and natural areas.

Independent report states 86 per cent of oil sands region undisturbed or has

no direct human footprint.

Biodiversity Graphic 3
Biodiversity Graphic 2

Herd of 300 wood bison

contribute to genetic conservation and biodiversity research.

Our Approach

Our commitment to responsible environmental stewardship reflects an awareness of the value of biodiversity in many of our programs and initiatives. Through these, we work towards ensuring our actions today do not have a long-term permanent impact on local ecosystems and, through our reclamation activities, we are able to re-establish native vegetation and wildlife habitats similar to those that existed prior to disturbance of the area.

Wildlife and Waterfowl Protection Strategies

Syncrude operates within a large wilderness area in northern Alberta's boreal forest and employs a number of strategies to deter wildlife from our sites. These include our waterfowl and bird deterrent system, and protocols for the handling of food and food waste.

In 2015, there were eight non-avian wildlife mortality incidents, including those related to natural causes. We also experienced 51 bird and waterfowl mortalities due to oiling, plus 30 additional losses related to vehicle collision or natural or unknown causes. We are required by law to report to regulators sightings and wildlife incidents occurring on our site. In situations where distressed wildlife is found, the animal is assessed and action is taken under the guidance of Fish and Wildlife officials from Alberta Environment and Parks.

An unfortunate incident occurred in August, when 31 blue herons were discovered dead or in distress at an inactive sump area on our Mildred Lake site. The birds had been oiled by residual bitumen. Government officials were notified immediately and wildlife deterrents deployed. Syncrude was issued an Environmental Protection Order by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), requiring us to take soil and water samples and implement a wildlife mitigation plan to prevent further wildlife from entering the area. In addition, our own investigation revealed opportunities to improve our wildlife monitoring efforts, and these too have been implemented. Water in the sump area has since been drained and shoreline vegetation removed. Reclamation of the area will be completed in 2016. We continue to cooperate with both the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and Environment Canada as the two agencies conduct their investigations.

Wildlife Incidents

Avian includes all bird and waterfowl mortalities related to oiling. Incidents are reported to the Alberta Government Environment and Parks department. An additional 30 mortalities were reported related to vehicle collision or other natural or unknown causes.
Other Wildlife includes all animal mortalities, regardless of cause, including those in which the cause was natural, due to predation or unknown.

Wildlife Monitoring

It is important for Syncrude to demonstrate that our land reclamation practices are delivering results and creating productive habitats for local species to return. This is done through monitoring techniques such as visual observations, capture and release of birds, acoustic recordings, motion-activated cameras and track plates to detect the diversity of wildlife. Studies compare both reclaimed and natural sites within and around our lease boundaries.

Activities are supplemented with the Institute for Bird Populations' Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program. Through this continent-wide bird banding program, researchers can effectively monitor bird reproduction, survivorship and habitat use of reclaimed, disturbed and natural sites. Information collected contributes to a large database that is managed by The Institute for Bird Populations.

During the 2015 program, over 2,200 birds were captured and released at eight stations, including over 1,500 birds at six stations located on reclaimed land. Since the program began in 2011, 137 species have been detected. Furthermore, automated audio and ultrasonic recordings have detected the presence of boreal chorus frogs and wood frogs, as well as silver-haired, hoary, northern longed-eared, little brown and red bats. Stations equipped with motion-detection cameras have captured an abundance of wildlife species including coyote, black bear, gray wolf, Canada lynx, moose, fisher, white-tailed and mule deer, red fox, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, American marten, weasel, northern river otter and beaver. Monitoring continues in 2016.

Animal Monitoring images

Images of numerous wildlife species have been captured on film visiting natural and reclaimed sites.

Managing Species at Risk

Species of concern to provincial and federal governments have been monitored returning to our reclaimed areas. These include the Canada lynx and fisher – both listed by the Alberta government as sensitive – and the short-eared owl and common nighthawk – listed as special concern and threatened respectively by the Canadian government’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). As well, an increase in the number of adult Canada warbler – listed as threatened by Canada’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and SARA – has been observed in the region since 2011.

Regarding woodland caribou, Syncrude’s operations are not located within their habitat range nor have our monitoring programs observed evidence of their presence on our leases.

Regional Biodiversity Assessment

A report issued by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) in 2014 states the oil sands region is home to at least 88 species at risk , as identified by the governments of Alberta and Canada. There is no species listed as endangered in the region. The Biodiversity Intactness Index was 88 per cent, based on the assessment of 425 species. This represents a 12 per cent deviation from expected abundance relative to an undisturbed area.

The report further states that 86 per cent of the oil sands region – an area over 140,000 km2 comprising approximately 21 per cent of Alberta – is undisturbed or has no direct human footprint. Energy has the lowest footprint at 2.2 per cent. Visit the ABMI website for more information and to download the report.

Total Human Footprint

Total Human Footprint

Trend in the percentage of total human footprint and its primary components: agriculture, industry, energy industry, and forest footprint in the OSR from 1999 - 2012. Source: ABMI

Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch

Together with the Fort McKay First Nation, Syncrude manages a herd of around 300 wood bison which graze on pasture land reclaimed from mining operations. Known as the Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch, it is recognized across Western Canada for herd health and has contributed to genetic conservation efforts. As well, animals are in high demand as breeder stock at auction sales because of their pure genetic status.

It was disappointing when, in the summer of 2015, anthrax bacteria were detected in five wood bison on the ranch. Upon discovery, we immediately worked with appropriate experts to manage the situation. These efforts limited the impact to five animals and protected the remaining herd.

Anthrax is caused by a bacterium that can survive in spore form in soil for decades. Spores can concentrate in sloughs and potholes, and may be released when these areas become dry. The region experienced drier conditions during the summer, which we believe caused the occurrence. Anthrax was also confirmed in other herds in Saskatchewan and Wood Buffalo National Park around the same time.

Syncrude’s work with veterinarians during the incident is contributing to research efforts toward improved and practical anthrax prevention practices.

Multi-stakeholder Collaboration

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.

As a member of the Mining Association of Canada, we endorse the principles of the Towards Sustainable Mining initiative. This includes a protocol on biodiversity conservation. More information on TSM and its 2013 third-party verification on our biodiversity performance can be found in the Management Systems chapter.