Wetland reclamation: Pioneering fen research
Wetlands are an important part of reclamation efforts. To date, 48.2 hectares of wetland and lake reclamation have been completed. A high research priority is developing the ability to reconstruct wetlands, including swamps, marshes and fens. Until recently, reclamation efforts had primarily focused on marshes.
In 2013, Suncor marked a milestone in wetland reclamation — the official opening of a reconstructed fen that is planned to emulate the properties of a natural fen. Our fen — one of the first reclaimed fen wetland watersheds in the world — is named Nikanotee (pronounced Nee-ga-no-tee), a Cree word meaning future.
A fen is the most common boreal wetland type found in the mineable oil sands region. Fens tend to:
- accumulate large deposits of organic matter (called peat) and are primarily fed by groundwater inputs
- be perpetually wet, storing water and releasing it slowly during dry periods
- act as filters for streams and rivers lower down, improving water quality by capturing runoff and scrubbing out nutrients and sediments
- be home to diverse biota, such as amphibians, birds, moose, and a wide range of plants — including the insect-eating pitcher plant
Located at our oil sands base plant near Fort McMurray, Alta., our three-hectare fen is fed by a man-made 32-hectare watershed. The project is the culmination of 10 years of collaborative research.
The University of Waterloo led the fen hydrological feasibility modeling, in partnership with the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA). Suncor funded the design and construction of the fen. Along with Shell and Imperial Oil, we are funding ongoing research and monitoring of the constructed site.
Ongoing research and monitoring of the fen wetland watershed is conducted by students from five universities and colleges — Waterloo, Calgary, Colorado State, Wilfrid Laurier and Keyano – as well as our staff. It’s expected this work will reveal a lot about the potential for recreating these natural habitats.
The Nikanotee Fen is now a joint industry project, contributed by Suncor to other members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance.