Suncor’s land stewardship efforts are focused on reducing the impact of our operations on land resources, accelerating reclamation of disturbed lands and preserving biodiversity. Read more:

Our land stewardship efforts focus on reducing operational impact, accelerating reclamation & preserving biodiversity

Suncor’s land stewardship efforts are focused on reducing the impact of our operations on land resources, accelerating reclamation of disturbed lands and preserving biodiversity. Read more:

Suncor’s land stewardship efforts are focused on reducing the impact of our operations on land resources, accelerating reclamation of disturbed lands and preserving biodiversity. Read more:

Suncor employees at the Nikanotee Fen, an environmental reclamation initiative

Land and biodiversity

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We recognize our operations have an impact on our shared environment, including valuable land resources.

Energy development disturbs land – there is no way around that. However, the land is not lost forever. We undertake detailed planning to reclaim land affected by development before the first tree is removed or the first shovel hits the ground.

Reducing our footprint, reclaiming land, promoting biodiversity

Our land stewardship efforts are focused in three key areas:

  • reducing the impact of our operations on land resources through scientific research and best management practices, while also working with neighbouring companies to reduce the cumulative effects of development
  • accelerating the pace of progressive reclamation of disturbed lands, including the reclamation of tailings ponds
  • preserving biodiversity by working internally and with industry peers and multi-stakeholder organizations on initiatives to conserve and promote natural habitat for birds, mammals, fish and other species

Reserves that underlie 97% of the oil sands surface area are recoverable only using in situ drilling technology, which is similar to conventional oil production. In situ operations disturb about 15% of the land required for mining operations and do not produce tailing ponds. However, in situ operations contribute to forest fragmentation – an issue we are addressing through initiatives undertaken by Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

As part of achieving our reclamation goal, the following biodiversity efforts were simultaneously implemented:

  • Working with Aboriginal communities to identify culturally-significant wetland plants to incorporate into our reclamation;
  • Diverse ecosystems were created, including lakes, streams, shallow open water, marsh and fen wetlands, and many different forest types;
  • Planting different type of native trees, shrubs and aquatic plants – approximately 40 species - including those important for local wildlife food and habitat and Aboriginal cultural significance;
  • Coarse woody debris was recovered from disturbed forests and reused in reclamation to establish wildlife habitat and control soil erosion;
  • Logs recovered from disturbed forests were reused as snags or wildlife trees to create perches and nesting sites for birds and habitat for other wildlife;
  • Bird and bat boxes were constructed and installed in many new areas;
  • Rock piles were established as denning sites for small animals; and
  • Direct placement of reclamation material to conserve native seed propagules;

Working with stakeholders

The impacts of our operations are assessed in many ways, including for their impact on biodiversity when permits change or an expansion project warrants a review.

Local stakeholders are often involved in monitoring significant risks and/or potential impacts on biodiversity. We’re required to provide the provincial government with plans to manage our impacts on many components of biodiversity within the areas where we operate. This includes:

  • re-vegetation plans
  • wildlife mitigation and monitoring plans
  • annual vegetation assessments to measure and plan species richness and density of reclaimed sites

Environmental impact assessments and/or socio-economic impact assessments are required by law at all sites where we operate.

Suncor is involved with many stakeholder groups, research activities and monitoring programs aimed at understanding and mitigating potential industry impacts on biodiversity. This includes oil sands development in Canada’s boreal forest, one of the world’s largest intact ecosystems.

We’re committed to being a responsible steward of the boreal forest by striving to preserve the region’s biodiversity. We work independently, and with industry peers and multi-stakeholder organizations, to conserve and promote natural habitat for species including those potentially impacted by our operations.

We are a signatory to the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework – a ground-breaking national conservation vision developed by 20 First Nations, environmental groups and resource companies. 2013 marked the 10th anniversary of this important multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Suncor sponsored a Boreal Leadership Council (BLC) project to review tools, data, practices and governance structures currently used by Aboriginal peoples for action-planning, including Indigenous knowledge, habitat identification, population monitoring and aspects of caribou conservation.

Learn more at the Boreal Leadership Council website

Working to minimize our impact

We are working on a number of other fronts to minimize our impact in the boreal region:

  • Advancing progressive reclamation techniques at our oil sands mining operations. We’re working to reclaim mined lands as they are disturbed and to accelerate the time it takes to return disturbed lands to a self-sustaining, locally common boreal forest ecosystem.
  • Pioneering research and innovation on wetland reclamation, including the official opening, in 2013, of one of the world’s first man-made fens. (A fen is the most common boreal wetland found in the oil sands region). We’ve also partnered with Ducks Unlimited and COSIA to investigate potential for boreal swamp reclamation.

Learn more about reclamation efforts

  • Conservation of environmentally sensitive boreal habitats. Work started by the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) and supported by the Suncor Energy Foundation secures lands with important habitat value through collaborative effort. Acquired lands, referred to as Conservation Sites, provide essential habitat for wildlife and fish species as well as sustainable recreation opportunities. We continue to work with ACA and in 2014/15 our collaborative partnership resulted in the purchase of seven parcels of land (or more than 1,089 additional acres of habitat) across the Boreal Forest Natural Regions. These parcels were used to either create new Conservation Sites or expand on existing ones.
  • Managing our in situ footprint. We continue to work with industry peers to pilot techniques and increase understanding of how to effectively reduce fragmentation of natural habitat related to in situ bitumen extraction and other resource activity in the boreal forest.

We work through COSIA on a wide range of projects aimed at restoring disturbed lands and protecting natural habitat.

Examples of our ongoing biodiversity initiatives:

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Our wildlife monitoring and mitigation programs

We pay close attention to how our operations affect the environment, especially wildlife. We invest in research, monitoring and conservation activities in partnership with a variety of organizations. This includes support of developing science and research into reclamation efficacy through monitoring of wildlife species returning to reclaimed areas, as well as avian monitoring projects and bat mortality studies at our wind farms. We follow an integrated approach to landscape management and wildlife protection. Reducing impact to wildlife is incorporated into our project planning process.

The wildlife management program

The objective of Suncor’s Wildlife Management Program on our oil sands leases in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) is to minimize human-wildlife conflicts and wildlife habituation and conditioning while maintaining a healthy wildlife population and diversity.

In 2015, Suncor continued to take a holistic approach to its wildlife management program, with proactive strategies focused on waste management, wildlife conflict prevention inspections and education.

We regularly consult and collaborate with the Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) wildlife biologists and local fish & wildlife officers.

Investigating wildlife incidents helps us understand the cause and prevent future occurrences. Following a fatal bear attack at our oil sands site in May 2014, we have implemented additional preventive measures to minimize risk of future human-wildlife encounters at our Wood Buffalo region leases:

  • mandatory wildlife awareness training for all workers on Suncor sites or projects in the RMWB
  • an online wildlife-tracking tool within Suncor to increase awareness and understanding of wildlife present on our leases
  • additional training for personnel working in natural habitats such as remote locations away from vehicles or buildings
  • wildlife specialists focused on bear aversion conditioning, effective waste management and education on site
  • the addition of wildlife hazard considerations in our standards and procedures

The bird protection program

Suncor is committed to minimizing interactions between birds and the process-affected ponds required for its operations in the oil sands through:

  • adoption and refinement of deterrent methods
  • monitoring for bird contacts
  • searching for bird mortalities

We implement a combination of radar linked deterrents, non-radar linked deterrents and physical deterrents to discourage waterfowl from landing on tailings and other process-affected ponds. We closely monitor our deterrents and attend to any impacted birds in consultation with the AER.

In 2015, a total of 32 species were recorded among 4,903 observations of landed birds at process-affected ponds. None of the landed birds observed were oiled, nor did site personnel report any incidental observations of oiled birds. One Mallard and two Savannah sparrows were observed oiled, dead during mortality searches and are included in the total of 38 birds that died on our oil sands mine leases in 2015, compared to 45 in 2014.

Industry collaboration on biodiversity

As the oil sands industry grows it becomes increasingly important to work together to address the cumulative impacts of development on wildlife and biodiversity. One way we do this is through our participation in COSIA.

COSIA’s land environmental priority area is focused on reducing the footprint intensity and impact of oil sands mining and in situ operations on the land and wildlife of northern Alberta. Through COSIA, we work on a wide range of projects aimed at footprint reduction, accelerating reclamation and preserving biodiversity.

Some examples of COSIA projects related to boreal forest biodiversity:

Reclamation efforts in the Algar region

The Landscape Ecological Assessment and Planning (LEAP) tool and database developed by COSIA was used to plan caribou habitat restoration in the Algar region, an area covering 570 km2 along the Athabasca River southeast of Fort McMurray. The Algar project was completed through an integrated regional approach, with COSIA companies working together to repair fragmented habitat across an area of land outside of their actual license areas.

The project, originally planned as five-year program, was completed over a four-year period ending in 2015 with a total of 387 km of seismic lines treated and 162,000 trees planted to help restore woodland caribou habitat within the Algar region. A wildlife monitoring program will help track how the restoration work affects wildlife movement in the area and measure the success of treatments applied through the project.

Read more about the restoration of Algar

The Faster Forests program

The Faster Forests program is designed to address forest fragmentation by strategically planting trees in disturbed areas across the oil sands region. In 2015, more than 200,000 trees and shrubs were planted, bringing the total number of trees and shrubs planted since 2009 to approximately 3.3 million.

Planting shrubs native to the area is a major focus. These shrubs will help tree seedlings grow healthier, faster and with less competition for nutrients and water from fast-growing grasses. The result: greater ecological integrity and biodiversity. Berry-bearing shrubs such as blueberry and saskatoon are important to Aboriginal communities and wildlife.

Suncor has adapted learnings from the Faster Forests program and incorporated them into our operations. This practice has allowed us to address historical disturbances that were not otherwise re-vegetating.

Read more about the Faster Forests program

Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chairs

COSIA is sponsoring the Alberta Biodiversity Research Chairs Program that’s intended to fast-track biodiversity science and support on-the-ground research on the environmental impact of development in the boreal forest of northern Alberta.
The current program includes two research chairs at the University of Alberta, which cover four integrated research themes:

  • rare and endangered species monitoring and conservation
  • cause and effect assessment of biodiversity change as the foundation for effective management
  • improve monitoring, modeling and management of terrestrial biodiversity for regional land use planning
  • integrated restoration – from site to landscape levels