Report on Sustainability 2019

Biodiversity

Suncor is committed to supporting biodiversity. Wherever we operate, our commitment is the same: protect wildlife from harm, keep our people safe, and return the natural habitats of the sites we disturb.

Suncor’s oil sands, in situ and mining operations are located in diverse landscapes, home to ecosystems comprising a variety of plants and animals. Our reclamation planning and execution efforts focus on improving the landscape biodiversity outcomes so we can return the natural diversity of plants and animals at the end of an operating area’s life.

Biodiversity considerations are included in the environmental impact assessments (EIA) that are required at all our major operations before their construction. Biodiversity risk is determined during the EIA phase and is typically driven by regulations and discussions with relevant stakeholders, including the applicable regulatory authority.

We also collaborate with Indigenous communities, industry peers and multi-stakeholder organizations on research and monitoring initiatives to conserve and reclaim habitats for wildlife.

In northern Alberta, remote cameras monitor wildlife activity in the forested areas around our oil sands in situ and mining operations and reclaimed sites. In 2018, cameras in reclaimed sites recorded more than 23,000 sightings of 20 wildlife species. In the same reclaimed areas, acoustic recording units recorded seven species of bats over 10,000 hours of monitoring, and targeted wildlife surveys identified more than 88 species of birds and three species of amphibians in 2018.
Recordings of birds at a forested fen habitat near our McKay River site.

Once a landform is considered ready for reclamation and will no longer be used for active operations, final landform contouring can progress. Suncor constructs closure drainage features and places reclamation soils. We incorporate surface variability and wildlife habitat features to encourage biodiversity in the final landscape.

We plant locally sourced tree, shrub and aquatic seedlings are planted and the soil is fertilized directly at the seedling roots to help the young plants during early development years. The reclaimed areas are then monitored to ensure the new forest, lakes and wetlands mature into a healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem. 

Meet one of our biodiversity experts. Hear Lisa talk about reclamation, wildlife and plant species at Suncor’s reclaimed sites.

Habitats protected or returned

Over 50% of the oil sands area around Fort McMurray is covered in wetlands – mostly fens and bogs. To date, we have successfully created open water wetlands, marshes, and a fen.
Black bear recorded as part of the photographic monitoring program.
Black bear recorded as part of the photographic monitoring program.

In 2018, we planted approximately 250,000 trees and shrubs at various Suncor reclaimed sites. This brings the total number of seedlings planted since 1976 to approximately 8.5 million and includes:

  • five tree species
  • 10 shrub species
  • 14 aquatic plant species

Reclaimed areas in our oil sands operations planted in the 1980s are now seeing second- and third-generation conifer seedlings take root under mature planted trees – a positive sign of regeneration within a healthy forest. Another indicator of success is the increase in wildlife returning to reclaimed lands.

Species spotted on our reclamation areas include:

  • Birds: Five listed migratory bird species (western tanager, sora, Cape May warbler, and barn swallow), two species of raptor (American kestrel, northern harrier), and sharp-tailed grouse have been observed "lekking" (spring mating dance) on our reclaimed lands.
  • Mammals: Grey wolf, coyote, lynx, red fox, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, muskrat, otter, beaver, and small mammals; black bears have also used our reclaimed areas for denning.
  • Amphibians: Boreal chorus frogs, wood frogs, and Canadian toads use our reclaimed areas for breeding.
Clementine the owl and Freddy the hawk
Clementine the owl and Freddy the hawk were introduced to an area where up to 740 ravens were roosting. The final day of the pilot saw that number reduced to less than 30.

Suncor’s operations are proximal to globally listed species at risk (IUCN Red list) which breed, live and migrate through the region. We track observations of these species and report them to the appropriate provincial or federal regulator.

TypeCommon NameIUCN Ranking
BirdsBarn SwallowLeast Concern
Canadian WarbierLeast Concern
Common NighthawkLeast Concern
Peregrine FalconLeast Concern
Short-Eared OwlLeast Concern
Western GrebeLeast Concern
Yellow RailLeast Concern
Olive-Sided FlycatcherNear-Threatened
Horned GrebeVulnerable
Rusty BlackbirdVulnerable
Whooping CraneEndangered
MammalsWolverineLeast Concern
Northern MyotisNear-Threatened
Little Brown MyotisEndangered
AmphibiansNorthern Leopard FrogLeast Concern
Western ToadLeast Concern
ArthropodsYellow-Banded BumblebeeVulnerable

Wildlife management in the oil sands

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo wildlife management program

The objective of Suncor’s wildlife management program 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.

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

Suncor applies the following priorities to mitigate for wildlife conflicts:

  1. Promote respect for wildlife and their habitat
    • Wildlife cameras placed in our environmental buffer zones monitor wildlife activity to help us make sure we aren’t impeding their movement.
    • Personnel on site are encouraged to report all wildlife sightings using Suncor’s online wildlife reporting tool or by calling security.
    • We create buffers around active den sites to prevent disturbance of denning animals.
  2. Reduce risk of human-animal encounters through managing attractants
    • Wildlife-proof waste bins are used on site to keep bears and other wildlife from getting in the habit of eating food waste on site. All Suncor personnel in our operating areas are instructed to use the wildlife-proof bins for all food waste, to avoid keeping food or food waste in truck boxes, and not to litter.
    • Regular human-wildlife conflict prevention inspections monitor compliance to Suncor wildlife programs, including waste management.
  3. Provide education to workers to promote proper behaviours
    • Wildlife training is mandatory for all personnel at our operating sites in the RMWB.
    • We routinely issue safety bulletins, posters and alerts to heighten awareness if and when wildlife encounters become a concern.
    • Members of the wildlife team attend employee talks to discuss wildlife programs and wildlife safety.
    • Suncor regional standard RGS0029A (Wildlife standard) is a resource available for workers on all RMWB operating sites.
  4. Apply aversion conditioning methods and tools to resolve human-wildlife conflicts
    • Suncor contracts wildlife specialists during bear season to respond to wildlife reports and help workers reduce the risk of wildlife encounters.
    • Suncor works with the applicable regulatory authority to address human-wildlife conflicts, as required.

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:

  • annual assessment of ponds and sumps to determine potential wildlife risk
  • adoption and refinement of deterrent methods
  • monitoring for bird contacts
  • searching for bird mortalities

Suncor is a member of the Oil Sands Bird Technical Team (OSBTT), a team involving the collaboration of regional industry members and regulators that generates and shares knowledge to help reduce harm to and mortalities of birds resulting from potential risk of bird contact with harmful substances at oil sands sites. OSBTT develops research studies and initiatives to address any potential gaps in current regional monitoring protocols used.

The knowledge gathered by OSBTT can be applied to inform and improve current monitoring procedures and research into bird interactions in the oil sands region. We use a combination of radar-linked deterrents, non radar-linked deterrents and physical deterrents to discourage birds from landing on tailings and other process-affected ponds. We closely monitor our deterrents and attend to any affected birds in consultation with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

Bird Management Pilot Program: In December 2018, Suncor introduced a 30-day pilot program at Base plant to test the effectiveness of faLeast Concernonry to reduce the number of ravens roosting in Upgrading operations during the winter months. When roosting, ravens produce excess amounts of excrement that build up in operating areas, creating numerous potential health and safety concerns for workers.

A third-party company brought birds of prey into targeted areas, a natural form of wildlife management during which a hostile environment is created and ultimately deters ravens from using Upgrading areas for roosting.

Suncor has submitted a final report to AEP and pending review, may allow for additional licences for this type of project in the future.

Culturally significant sweet grass used for Lake Miwasin vegetation.
Culturally significant sweet grass used for Lake Miwasin vegetation.

Working with stakeholders

Culturally Significant Wetland Plant study

Suncor, Alberta Innovates and local Indigenous communities have been working together since 2014 to identify culturally significant plants and learn how to grow and establish them on reclaimed lands in the Wood Buffalo Region of northern Alberta. This collaboration focuses on integrating values and traditional knowledge from Elders and members of the surrounding communities with western science to guide and enhance reclamation activities within Suncor’s operations.

We invited Elders and Indigenous community members to help design the Culturally Significant Wetland Plants study and its objectives by attending meetings, sharing knowledge, spending time together on the land, and visiting a greenhouse. Co-operation between Suncor and the neighbouring Cree, Dene and Métis communities has helped strengthen our relationships, while allowing for inclusion of different perspectives on ecological reclamation considerations. The study will run until 2020 and we will share learnings with all participants so they can grow and establish these plants in their own communities.

Suncor is demonstrating the value of early, consistent and responsible engagement with local communities. The Culturally Significant Wetland Plants study is resulting in more meaningful and collaborative insights that guide reclamation planning and closure outcomes, while enhancing mutual trust and respect.

Collaboration on biodiversity

It’s becoming increasingly important for the oil sands industry to work together to address the cumulative impacts of development on wildlife and biodiversity. One way we do this is through our participation in Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

Through COSIA, we work on a wide range of projects aimed at environmental footprint reduction, accelerating reclamation and preserving biodiversity.

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.

Suncor worked collaboratively with other COSIA members to develop the COSIA land environmental priority area (EPA) performance goal, an intensity-based metric that measures the amount of in situ surface land disturbance per area of reservoir accessed. Collaboratively, COSIA organizations are working toward the goal of reducing their operational footprint intensity by 10% by 2022.

In addition, Suncor led development of a COSIA Land Challenge focused on finding new technologies that support approaching zero land disturbance exploration. The COSIA land challenge was released in Q1 2017. Several new technology ideas and proposals have been received to date. At least one proposal was advanced in Q4 2017 to the pilot stage.

Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chairs

Suncor is part of the COSIA-sponsored Alberta Biodiversity Research Chairs program, which intends 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 three integrated research themes:

  1. How do we measure successful restoration of biodiversity?
  2. How will climate change alter our ideas about what elements of biodiversity are most important and plausible to conserve and restore?
  3. What is the value of created wetlands in their function and sustainability?

Alberta Conservation Association Boreal Habitat Conservation Initiative

Suncor has partnered with Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) Boreal Habitat Conservation Initiative since 2002. This award-winning initiative helps protect intact boreal forest and wetlands, ensuring the larger boreal forest ecosystem remains undisturbed and biodiversity is preserved.

Beginning with the successful pilot project at Winagami Lake northwest of High Prairie, Alberta – home to more than 200 species of birds, and important to fisheries and wildlife – Suncor has worked with ACA to secure approximately 9,800 acres of ecologically sensitive land across Alberta.

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On this page
Recommended readings
Land and reclamation
Sustainability goals
COSIA