Overview

The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) requires conservation and reclamation of all specified lands, including mines. The EPEA dictates that all such areas be returned to equivalent land capability.

The pace of land reclamation in the oil sands and coal mines is constrained by:

  • the long-term nature of mining operations
  • technological and land-use challenges
  • the requirement for tailings storage

Operators must obtain a reclamation certificate from the AER once the land meets acceptable standards. For the reasons above, the process – from reclamation to certification – can take decades.

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) had regulatory responsibility for oil sands and coal mines until the release of the Responsible Energy Development Act. The act transferred responsibility to the AER.

Guidelines

Technical resources

Progressive reclamation

To increase the pace of oil-sands and coal-mine reclamation, there is a progressive-reclamation strategy. It involves tools and initiatives to improve the sector’s financial security and environmental performance.

The strategy was mapped out in 2012 and sets goals through 2022. It has 3 key components:

  • updated reclamation security policy
  • enhanced reclamation reporting
  • clarification of the reclamation certificate program

See the strategy at: Lower Athabasca Regional Plan.

Mine financial security

The Mine Financial Security Program (MFSP) is intended to:

  • protect Albertans from coal and oil-sands mine liability costs when operators cannot meet their obligations
  • maximize opportunities for responsible and sustainable resource development

You can learn more by reading the following documents from the AER:

Reclamation reporting

The Oil Sands Information Portal makes public the tracking and reporting of oil-sands land status. It is an interactive and user-friendly website. Use it to find environmental information and data on Alberta’s oil sands.

Reclamation certificates

When a reclamation certificate is issued, the related parcel of land is returned to the Crown.

It can take many years, even decades, before a reclamation certificate is issued, as care is taken to ensure that a desired land use has been achieved and a developing ecosystem is fully functional before a reclamation certificate for a parcel of land is issued. This minimizes the potential and associated financial risk to the Government of Alberta of having to return to reclaimed land post certification to perform active management.

The Criteria and Indicators Framework for Oil Sands Mine Reclamation Certification is a preliminary step in defining a structured process and information requirements for oil sands mine reclamation certification. When completed, the Framework will support applications for reclamation certification.

Tailings management

The Tailings Management Framework for the Mineable Athabasca Oil Sands (TMF) was released in 2015.

It is intended to:

  • enhance management of fluid tailings at oil-sands mining projects
  • decrease liability and environmental risk from the accumulation of fluid tailings

The framework requires fluid tailings to be treated and reclaimed progressively during a project. It also stipulates that fluid tailings be ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end of the project’s mine-life.

Directive 085

As part of implementing the TMF, AER released Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects under the Oil Sands Conservation Act.

The directive sets out how to manage fluid-tailing volumes for oil-sands mining projects, including:

  • application information requirements
  • the application review process
  • fluid tailings management reporting
  • performance evaluation, compliance and enforcement processes

Read the Directive at: Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects.