Oil / Sand
Forty-seven thousand eight hundred thirty-two hectares of boreal forest have been disturbed for oil sands mine development. Only 0.2% of this land has been certified as reclaimed. In 2008 a 104-hectare parcel of land known as Gateway Hill was certified by the Government of Alberta as reclaimed and returned from Syncrude Canada Ltd. to the Canadian public. Syncrude Canada Ltd. is the only company that has applied for a reclamation certification, and Gateway Hill is the only site that has been certified as reclaimed.
Within the Athabasca Boreal region, there are three active surface mining operations: Suncor Energy Inc., Albian Sands Energy Inc. and Syncrude Canada Ltd. The cumulative disturbance footprint of mines, active, approved, and proposed, amounts to over 191,000 hectares. (The municipality of Grand-Métis has a land area of approx. 2,550 hectares).
Reclamation is the final step mining companies are required to complete before mine closure. Defined in Alberta as the “stabilization, contouring, maintenance, conditioning or reconstruction of the surface of land,” reclamation is an essential component of responsible oil sands development.
How will this newly reclaimed landscape be designed? Which habitats, ecologies, and species will be prioritized? Will a futile effort be made to return the land to a pre-extraction state, or will we be able to see beyond the environmental destruction to our positive role as designers? Will we correctly see the oil sands as the world’s largest human-designed ecosystem? In these reclamation sites, sand will dominate as the foundation of future ecologies.