Click each heading for more detailed information.
Only 0.15% of the area disturbed by oilsands mining is certified as reclaimed by the provincial government.
- Of the 715 square kilometres (71,500 hectares) of land disturbed by oilsands mining operations, only 1.04 square kilometres (104 hectares) is certified by the government as reclaimed.1
- Oilsands mine operators have unofficially reclaimed 65 square kilometres, but these values are self-reported. Due to a lack of regulated standards and transparency, this claim has not been verified.2
Oilsands reclamation will not return the boreal forest to its natural state.
- The Athabasca boreal forest is naturally composed of about 60% wetlands,3 Wetlands perform several important ecological functions, including flood reduction, prevention of erosion, water filtration, recharging water tables and carbon sequestration.4,
- Reclaimed oilsands landscapes will likely be dominated by end pit lakes and upland forests, not the peatlands and old-growth forests that characterize the natural landscape prior to oilsands extraction.5
- Research outside the Alberta oil sands region suggests peatland restoration may be possible, but, to date, there has been no demonstration of successful reclamation of peatlands in the Athabasca boreal region.6
Water capping of tailings waste through the creation of end pit lakes is an unproven method for reclaiming tailings waste.7
- A proposed long-term solution to toxic tailings reclamation is for mining companies to dump tailings waste into old mine pits and cap them with fresh water.8
- About 30 of these high-risk and experimental "end pit lakes" are planned for the Athabasca Boreal region, subject to demonstration.9
- The historical data about using end pit lakes as toxic waste dumps are insufficient to determine whether or not they are a safe, long-term tool for reclaiming tailings waste as no example of a functional end pit lake currently exists. 10
Collection of financial security for oilsands mining reclamation, mandated under Alberta's Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, is intended to safeguard against Albertans paying for reclamation of oilsands mine but is inadequate and puts Albertans and Canadians at financial risk.
- The Mine Financial Security Program is Alberta's insurance policy in case an oilsands mining company fails to reclaim the land. It allows oilsands operators to use undeveloped oilsands deposits as collateral for mine cleanup costs during the life of a mine project. Full reclamation security is only required for the last six years of operation.11This system means that taxpayers effectively underwrite massive financial liabilities during the majority of an oilsand’s mine’s lifetime.12
- In 2011, the total cash deposits, bonds, and letter of credit guarantees for oilsands mines in the Mine Financial Security Program was $912 million for 71,497 hectares of disturbed land, or only $12,756 per hectare.13 However, based on the limited government and industry data available, estimates suggest the cost of reclaiming this disturbed land will be $10-$15 billion, or approximately $220,000 to $320,000 per hectare.14
- A reclamation security program is supposed to ensure that industry, not the public, is responsible for any unforeseen reclamation liabilities. If the program is underfunded, taxpayers rather than industry might be on the hook for cleanup costs.15 One report suggests the underfunded security program could be exposing each Alberta taxpayer to a tax liability of $4,300 to $6,300.16 Under the new reclamation security program, the financial risk carried by Alberta taxpayers will increase.17
updated April 2013
- 1. Government of Alberta, “Alberta’s Oil Sands: Reclamation” (accessed January 25, 2013).
- 2. Data obtained from C. Powter of Alberta Environment. Data include the following mines: Syncrude Mildred Lake (data start 1977); Suncor (data start 1978); Fort Hills (data start 1995); Syncrude Aurora (data start 1998); Albian (data start 2000); CNRL (data start 2004); Jackpine (data start 2005).
- 3. Rebecca Rooney, Suzanne Bayley and David Schindler, "Oil sands mining and reclamation cause massive loss of peatland and stored carbon," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109 (11) March 12, 2012.
- 4. Mary Griffiths, Amy Taylor and Dan Woynillowicz, Troubled Waters, Troubling Trends: Technology and Policy Options to Reduce Water Use in Oil and Oil Sands Development in Alberta (The Pembina Institute, 2006), 79.
- 5. For example, it is predicted that Suncor's North Steepbank Mine will shift the area from substantial wetlands (48% before development) to a predominantly upland ecosystem (35% wetlands) after mine closure and reclamation. Suncor Energy Inc., "Voyageur Project-North Steepbank Extension Project Application," Vol. 1a (2005), 11-4.
- 6. Marsha Trites and Suzanne E. Bayley, "Vegetation in Continental Boreal Wetlands along a Salinity Gradient: Implications for oil sands mining reclamation," Aquatic Botany 91, no. 1 (2009):27-39.
- 7. EUB Decision 2006-128, EUB/CEAA Joint Review Panel Report - Application to Expand the Oil Sands Mining and Processing Plant Facilities at the Muskeg River Mine Albian Sands Energy Inc. (2006), 64.
- 8. Cumulative Environmental Management Association, End Pit Lakes Guidance Document (2012), 17.
- 9. Cumulative Environmental Management Association, End Pit Lakes Guidance Document (2012), 14.
- 10. Jennifer Grant, Simon Dyer, and Dan Woynillowicz, Fact or Fiction: Oilsands Reclamation (The Pembina Institute, 2008).
- 11. Alberta Environment, Guide to Mine Financial Security Program (2011), 32.
- 12. Jennifer Grant, Marc Huot, Nathan Lemphers, Simon Dyer, and Matt Dow, Beneath the Surface: A Review of Key Facts in the Oilsands Debate (The Pembina Institute, 2013), 52.
- 13. Government of Alberta, “Alberta’s Oil Sands: Reclamation” (accessed March 18, 2013).
- 14. Nathan Lemphers, Simon Dyer and Jennifer Grant, Toxic Liability: How Albertans could end up paying for oil sands mine reclamation (The Pembina Institute, 2010).
- 15. Royal Society of Canada, Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada's Oil Sands Industry.
- 16. Nathan Lemphers, Simon Dyer and Jennifer Grant, Toxic Liability: How Albertans could end up paying for oil sands mine reclamation.
- 17. For more information, see: New oilsands reclamation program more transparent, but still financially risky.