Reclaiming Alberta's Oil Sands

Reclamation Facts

  • In March 2008, Alberta issued its first-ever oil sands land reclamation certificate to Syncrude Canada Ltd.
  • Process of reclamation begins with mine planning and ends with certification.
  • There are 530 square kilometers (km2) of land disturbed due to oil sands mine operations, which is just over half the area of the City of Edmonton.
  • Currently, over 65 km2 of disturbed lands have been reclaimed. Reclamation certificates will not be issued until monitoring through time demonstrates these particular lands meet our criteria for return to self-sustaining ecosystems.
  • As of June 2008, Alberta Environment held over $721 million in reclamation security from oil sands mine companies.

In March 2008, Alberta issued the first-ever oil sands land reclamation certificate to Syncrude Canada Ltd. for the 104-hectare parcel of land known as Gateway Hill, approximately 35 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The site was used for placement of overburden material removed during oil sands mining. By the early 1980s, the area was no longer needed and Syncrude began to replace topsoil and plant trees and shrubs.

Due to the long timeframes and massive scale of oil sands projects, reclamation of disturbed lands can take decades. The reclamation process occurs throughout the life of the project, and the final reclamation certification occurs when the land is no longer in use and has been fully reclaimed. The Government of Alberta is taking a cautious and responsible approach regarding the issuance of reclamation certificates.

Going forward - with 80 per cent of recoverable oil sands being provided by insitu operations - the Alberta government will put in place tighter timelines for reclamation, since insitu extraction methods disturb far less land than mining.

Alberta's Plan for the Future

Future reclamation planning will include the coordination of regional development initiatives and the development of regional, mine and site level reclamation targets.

Recently, Alberta began requiring companies to link their conservation and reclamation plans to neighbouring leases and to nearby undisturbed boreal forest. This integration must consider ecological and hydrologic connections.

Alberta is reviewing its regulatory and incentive systems, which will encourage increased reclamation during mine development in order to reduce the amount of disturbed lands at any given time (e.g., changes to the reclamation security system).

Alberta will promote the development and adoption of leading edge technology and innovation, which will result in higher certainty for achieving desired reclamation outcomes (e.g., alternative tailings production systems).

Alberta will be developing and adopting a broader monitoring and reporting system for reclamation, which will include local, mine and regional criteria and indicators.


Alberta has strict regulations and policies in place to help manage the impact of oil sands industry on the environment. Alberta Environment and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development require reclaimed land to be capable of supporting a range of land uses similar to that of predisturbance. Alberta Environment and Alberta Sustainable Resource and Development ensure that the results of a company's remediation and reclamation activities meet Alberta's strict standards.

Through the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) it is the approval holder's responsibility to:

  • conserve and reclaim the disturbed land (Section 137(1) of EPEA) with the objective of returning the land to an equivalent land capability
  • operate under approved conservation and reclamation plans outlined in EPEA operating approvals
  • receive reclamation certificates issued by the Government of Alberta before being relieved of responsibility for a property

Not only does the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act require all land to be reclaimed, but all costs be are to be the responsibility of the approval holder.

Security for Oil Sands Land Reclamation

Alberta's Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act requires oil sands operators to provide financial ?security? into the Environmental Protection Security Fund. Operators are required to post security equivalent to the full-cost of reclamation. Security increases with additional land disturbance and is refunded to the operator as liability is decreased.

As of June 2008 Alberta Environment held over $721 million in reclamation security from oil sands mine companies. Reclamation is based on full-cost of reclamation and is updated annually, based on maximum disturbance in the upcoming year.

Learn more about Reclamation and Remediation.