A comprehensive new report by the Pembina Institute has found that after 41 years of oilsands mining operations in northern Alberta only 0.2% or one square kilometer of disturbed land is certified as reclaimed.
The 85-page report entitled Fact or Fiction: Oilsands Reclamation is a critical review of current policies and practices governing oilsands reclamation. The researchers found woefully inadequate reclamation progress, astonishing rates of toxic tailings creation and no proven way to clean them up. The researchers also found that the security deposits made by companies to guarantee reclamation may be inadequate, forcing Canadians to foot the bill for reclaiming vast areas of mined and disturbed boreal forest.
"Canadians will be shocked to learn how little of the mined land is reclaimed, and how fast oilsands companies are releasing toxic tailings into the environment. There is a disconnect between public perceptions of oilsands reclamation and what is truly happening on the ground," says Jennifer Grant, Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute and senior author of the report. "This report helps differentiate between the facts and fiction of oilsands reclamation."
Oilsands mining is transforming northeastern Alberta. By the end of 2007, oilsands companies had cleared or mined more than 470 square kilometres of boreal forest. More than 3,000 square kilometres of boreal forest is already leased for mine development. Meanwhile toxic tailings lakes, already 50 square kilometres in size, are projected to grow to 220 square kilometers — an area five times the size of Sylvan Lake, Alberta.
"When hundreds of waterfowl died in a toxic oilsands tailings lake a few weeks ago, government and industry ignored the real issue: the daily production of 1.8 billion litres of toxic tailings waste," says Simon Dyer, Oilsands Program Director at the Pembina Institute and report co-author. "Industry has never demonstrated it is able to clean up tailings lakes."
The report's recommendations are designed to help protect Albertans and potentially all Canadians from the economic and environmental liabilities being created by uncertain and non-transparent oilsands reclamation practices. These recommendations include prohibiting the creation of toxic liquid tailings, ensuring adequate financial bonding of the oilsands industry and setting maximum mine disturbance caps tied to on-the-ground reclamation performance.
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For more information, contact:
Policy Analyst and Lead Author
Oilsands Program Director
A full copy of the report, Fact or Fiction: Oilsands Reclamation, and a fact sheet are available at www.pembina.org/pubs