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Managing land impact
The Athabasca oils 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 could support wildlife and plants similar to those that were there in the area before mining.
We developed the plan using expertise from scientists and the native inhabitants 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. We keep separate, for example, the top 15 cm (six inches) of the forest floor with its rootlets, nutrients and micro-organisms apart from soil in peat lands and fens with its high 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.
As soon as we stop using a section of the mine, we start to reclaim it. Shell will reclaim large areas of the site within 20 years of our first operations at the mine.
Stage 1. Preparation: The reclamation process starts as soon 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 extracted 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.