Our long-term vision is to create a landscape which has capability equivalent to that which existed prior to disturbance, supports a healthy diversity of plants and animals, and sustains a range of land uses.

Our Performance

Land Graphic 1

126 hectares

of former mine areas reclaimed in 2016.

Over 400,000

tree and shrub seedlings planted on reclaimed land.

Land Graphic 2
Land Graphic 3

Fen watershed

continues to develop and support peat-forming vegetation.

Our Approach

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. Our goals are to ensure the final reclaimed landscape has capability equivalent to that existing prior to development, is integrated with the surrounding area, establishes boreal forest upland and lowland communities, yields water suitable for return to the natural environment, and is planned in direct consultation with local, directly affected stakeholders, and Aboriginal communities of interest.

Because we progressively reclaim former mining areas as soon as they are available, rather than delay until the end of mine life, areas available for reclamation vary from year to year depending on the mine plan. Cumulative reclamation continues to increase annually.

Syncrude participates in the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative, and endorses its Mine Closure Framework. This framework outlines expectations regarding the closure of a mine, including a commitment to work with communities to develop closure plans and identify values that will be incorporated into reclamation objectives, and to research and innovate improved mine closure and monitoring technologies.

Meeting Regulatory Commitments

Syncrude adheres to 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 10 years, with a mid-term update; a mine reclamation plan is submitted every three years, supplemented with annual progress reports. The most recent mine closure plan was submitted in 2016.

Each Syncrude Joint Venture Participant is liable for its share of financial security regarding the operation’s closure obligation. Information on the Mine Financial Security Program for coal and oil sands companies can be found on the website of the Alberta Energy Regulator.

Ongoing Reclamation Activities

Syncrude reclaimed 126 hectares in 2016 – 15 per cent more than target – and planted over 400,000 tree and shrub seedlings, which included six species of trees and 13 species of shrubs. Nine native species of grass were also planted or seeded.

More than 3.4 million m3 of surface soil, peat and subsoil material were salvaged in 2016 for use in reclamation, with LFH (leaf litter/fibric/humic, or the top layer recovered from the forest floor) material being placed directly to promote the most productive propagule germination of the native seed bank. Currently, in total, we have stockpiled over 80 million m3 of soil material to support ongoing reclamation activities.

Permanent Land Reclaimed

Trees and Shrubs Planted

East Mine Reclamation

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.

Construction of the 52-hectare Sandhill Fen research watershed was completed in 2012 and results to date are surpassing expectations. After four growing seasons, the plant community continues to develop and plant health is comparable to that found on a natural site. A 2015 vegetation diversity study showed that almost half of the wetland area is characterized by peat-forming species, and there are 87 plant and 23 moss species. As well, a wide variety of wildlife is inhabiting the watershed, including rodents, bats, frogs and birds. 

The interdisciplinary, multi-university research program has made excellent progress towards understanding the water and carbon balance, and there is now evidence the ecosystem is becoming a net carbon accumulating system. Lessons learned are being shared with other members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

We are now reclaiming 85-hectares immediately adjacent, named the Kingfisher area. It will feature both upland forest and wetland areas, and the reclamation strategy is being informed by lessons learned from the Sandhill Fen. Land-forming work commenced in 2015, and soil placement and vegetation planting is expected to be complete by 2018.

The two watershed systems will be interconnected, with the Sandhill Fen draining water into the Kingfisher’s wetland, which will in turn drain into the Mildred Lake reservoir and eventually into the Athabasca River.

Reclamation of the remainder of the East Mine continues with completion expected by 2022.

West Mine Reclamation

Reclamation of our former West Mine began in late 2012 using the method of capping fluid fine tails with water. This area is now capped with water and will be monitored as it evolves towards a fully functional, healthy aquatic ecosystem. Further discussion can be found in the Tailings chapter.

(Above) The reclaimed South Bison Hills was once the site of an oil sands mine.

Reclamation Research

Syncrude invested approximately $69 million on research and development efforts in 2016; of this, over half was directed to environmental projects such as our reclamation research programs and collaborative efforts through COSIA.

We also provide financial grants to Canadian and U.S. universities to assist us in advancing oil sands reclamation science. Among those are:

Performance Data

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Cleared1 (cumulative hectares) 3,719 3,526 3,876 3,528 3,190
Disturbed: land used for mine or plant purposes1 (cumulative hectares) 19,155 19,552 19,983 20,085 20,455
Total active footprint - mine and plant site footprint1 (cumulative hectares) 27,861 28,120 28,951 28,963 29,027
Soils placed - land available for revegetation1 (cumulative hectares) 1,086 1,075 1,047 1,080 1,044
Temporary reclamation1 (cumulative hectares) 690 668 632 703 697
Permanent land reclaimed1 (hectares per year) 330 103 81 54 126
Permanent land reclaimed1,2,3 (cumulative hectares) 3,316 3,403 3,516 3,568 3,642
Trees and shrubs planted (# per year) 954,000 305,000 156,867 272,330 408,000
Trees and shrubs planted (millions, cumulative) 6.9 7.2 7.4 7.7 8.1

1 For a full list of definitions regarding land use and reclamation in Alberta’s oil sands, visit here.
2 Includes land certified by the Alberta Government.
3 Numbers reflect the addition of all newly reclaimed areas as well as any reclamation losses due to redisturbance 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.