Land and reclamation
Suncor works on three primary areas to reduce the size and duration of our footprint, to facilitate the return of biodiversity and to sustain the function of nearby natural ecosystems in the boreal region:
- Reducing the impact of our operations on land resources
- Accelerating the pace of reclamation of disturbed lands
- Preserving biodiversity by working internally and with industry peers and multi-stakeholder organizations
Before developing a new mine, life-of-mine closure plans are developed that identify how and when the disturbed areas will be reclaimed. These plans are updated throughout the life of the project, allowing project changes and updates to technology to be integrated, supporting the ultimate return of the land to self-sustaining boreal forest ecosystem. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) must authorize reclamation and closure plans for all new projects and authorizes updated plans as they are developed.
Since Suncor began operations at Base Plant in 1967, we have disturbed 22,245 cumulative hectares (ha) of land in the Athabasca oil sands region. As of 2019, we have cumulatively reclaimed approximately 10.8% of the total land disturbance, including 2,352 ha of terrestrial reclamation and 48 ha of wetland and aquatic reclamation. We planted approximately 365,000 tree and shrub seedlings in reclamation areas at Base Plant in 2019; bringing the total cumulative seedlings planted to close to 8.9 million. This is approximately a 7% increase from 2018.
Reclamation and Disturbance Tracking for Mining – 2019
Disturbed: Used for Mine or Plant Purposes
Ready for Reclamation: No Longer Used for Mine or Plant Purposes
Soils Placed (Terrestrial; Wetlands & Aquatics)
Temporary Reclamation (Terrestrial)
Most of the reclamation at Suncor’s Base Plant completed so far has targeted upland forest types found locally in the Athabasca oil sands region. Over time, as reclamation landforms have naturally settled, wetlands have formed in low lying areas. These are called opportunistic wetlands.
- Preliminary data suggests that over 10% of our reclaimed uplands may have naturally converted to either temporary, seasonal or permanent wetlands.
- Some of these wetlands have been in-fill planted with wetland-specific tree and shrub species to enhance their complexity and maturity.
- Suncor has initiated an assessment of the number, extent, quality, and type of these opportunistic wetlands on our reclaimed lands.
Once the opportunistic wetlands are classified as per the Alberta Wetland Classification System, using a combination of remote sensing and field verification, they will be incorporated into Suncor’s reclamation tracking and monitoring programs. Ultimately, the presence of these reclaimed wetlands will result in a final reclaimed landscape which consists of a mosaic of uplands interspersed with wetlands, very similar to what existed prior to disturbance.
Fort Hills officially began production in 2018. As new mines are developed, the disturbance footprint increases significantly; however, Suncor continually looks for opportunities to minimize our footprint and progressively reclaim areas no longer required for production. Even though Fort Hills is newly in production, reclamation activities have already begun. As of 2019, Fort Hills had an additional 84 ha of temporary reclaimed land bringing the cumulative total of temporary and permanent reclaimed land to 360 ha.
In 2019, Suncor compiled a list of the reclamation certificates issued for old roads and observation wells no longer required to support the Firebag and MacKay River in situ operations. Approximately 15 hectares of land has met the requirements for permanent reclamation and has been certified and returned to the Government of Alberta.
Similar to a mine, as an in situ oil sands operator, we are required to complete a project-level conservation, reclamation and closure plan for the AER’s review and authorization, and to update it every five years. This integrated approach to planning and execution provides a project-level plan for achieving equivalent land capability and long-term, sustainable environmental outcomes after closure.
During the 2019 reclamation work, Suncor planted more than 51,000 trees and shrubs between our two in situ sites. By planting trees and shrubs reflective of the local the area, it is expected that a matrix of upland, wetland and deep water ecosystems will establish and support various wildlife over time.