Oil Sands Reclamation of Functioning Wetland Ecosystems

This research focuses around 2 main issues of importance to the oil and gas industries: 1) restoration/reclamation of wetland ecosystems impacted by oil and gas, and oil sands, development infrastructure (i.e. roads, well pads, etc.); and 2) the reclamation of areas where the extraction of tar sands has been completed via wetland construction.

All oil sands development (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage or Open Pit Mining) require a range in related infrastructure (e.g. well pads, access roads, etc.). Some of this infrastructure is now being decommissioned and the company is now planning to restore the wetlands in which these roads and pads have been constructed, ensuring that their peat forming role in the landscape is maintained. On going projects are looking at the effects of different types of road construction on fen peatland ecohydrological processes, and the most effective method of removing this infrastructure. These projects  involve: 1) monitoring the ecohydrological conditions and vegetation on the previously reclaimed and natural portions of the site; 2) setting up and monitoring of different restoration treatments; and 3) examining the physical and chemical properties of peat that has been buried below the road for differing periods of time and to examine the viability of plant propagules therein and the resiliency of the peat hydraulic properties.

In the oil sands development areas near Fort McMurray, where peatlands comprise up to 65% of the landscape, most of which are fens, active mining is occurring on over 250 km2 and is expected to cover approximately 1400 km2 by 2023 (Alberta Environment, 1999). Large tracts of undisturbed peatland are being removed in the process. This research will evaluate reclamation of a mined landscape to recreate a fen and its watershed on the SUNCOR land lease. A construction plan has been created and will commence Fall 2010. The goal is to create a self-sustaining physical environment that is carbon-accumulating, capable of supporting a representative assemblage of species and resilient to normal periodic stresses. Therefore, in addition to assisting Suncor Energy to comply with its legal obligation to reclaim fens to the post-mined landscape, the research is essential to understanding design implications and to the development of more optimal designs and protocols.