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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: