Main content | back to top
Managing land impact
The Athabasca oil sands lie in an area of Canada’s northern boreal forest that is rich in wildlife and plant species. We developed and implemented a plan to manage our impact on the land and protect the region’s biodiversity.
Before starting operations in 2003 at our Muskeg River Mine we put in place a plan to manage the site, through a process known as reclamation. In reclamation we work to return the land to a condition where it can support wildlife and plants similar to those that were there in the area before mining.
We developed the plan using expertise from scientists and traditional environmental knowledge of the area.
Location of oil sands resource in Alberta
Oil sands lie beneath 0.1% of Canada's total boreal forest.
We remove the soil layers from the areas we mine and store them separately. Surface soil, subsoil and peat are salvaged from the areas to be mined and stored separately based on ecosite type and soil properties, in order to maintain soil quality. For example, in upland areas the surface soil stripped with rootlets, nutrients and micro-organisms from the forest floor is stored separately from peat salvaged from peatlands and fens with its higher organic content. We also collect and register seeds from local plants, such as blueberry, so we can replant the same species later.
Our detailed research covers plants’ specific soil and nutrient requirements, as well as how to develop sustainable forest ecosystems, wetlands and peatlands.
Our integrated approach to biodiversity builds on the industry-first biodiversity standard we adopted in 2001, now incorporated in our biodiversity manual. This guides our efforts to maintain eco-systems and respect protected areas.
Full reclamation is a staged process that takes several decades to complete. Shell is committed to starting large-scale reclamation of our mining area within 20 years of first land disturbance.
Stage 1. Preparation: The reclamation process is already being considered as the site is cleared of trees and brush. Soil is removed in layers and stored in separate places to maintain distinct soil types.
Stage 2. Active mining operation: Oil sands are mined using conventional truck and shovel mining techniques.
Stage 3. Land reclamation: Once an area has stopped being mined, tailings are sent in and then capped with sand.
Stage 4. Completed reclamation: Eventually, a self-sustaining ecosystem will exist where there was once a mine.