Guidelines for pits and surface materials

Pit operations are regulated by Alberta Environment and Protected Areas under a variety of acts, codes of practice and regulations.


Surface materials are extracted through an opening or excavation called a “pit.” The most common is aggregate, which is made up of sand and gravel. Some pits also produce marl or clay.

A pit site may include:

  • roads
  • facilities
  • stockpiles
  • processing activities such as crushing, screening and washing

“Extraction" refers to the removal of the surface materials. The most common surface materials extracted are aggregate, which includes sand and gravel.

Making changes

The Alberta government has been conducting a review of its surface-material extraction program and policies. We want to ensure our programs reflect improvements in scientific knowledge. Programs should also take into consideration Albertans’ changing regulatory expectations.

The Alberta government has developed draft recommendations to improve oversight and efficiencies in the program.


We shared our recommendations with stakeholders at informational meetings in early 2017, and invited their feedback at that time.

Read a compilation of the feedback at: What We Heard: Stakeholder Feedback on the Sand and Gravel Program Review.

Pit regulation

The Alberta government follows the guidance acts, codes of practice and other regulations when regulating pit operations.


Other regulations

All pits, regardless of size or classification, must comply with the Conservation and Reclamation Regulation. As such, they all require a reclamation certificate from the Alberta government.

Environmental requirements

The Alberta government regulates the environmental requirements for pit operations, including:


For any relevant pit operations, local municipalities are responsible for:

  • municipal zoning
  • land-use planning
  • land-use bylaws
  • community aggregate payment levy

More about the Water Act

The Water Act and associated requirements are applicable to all pits. This is regardless of the ownership of the land.

The operator must obtain the appropriate authorizations before:

  • dewatering
  • altering surface drainage
  • constructing an end pit lake
  • disturbing groundwater
  • the use of any water

To learn more, see:

For application forms, see:

Pits and borrow activities

Public land

On public land, the Public Lands Administration Regulation is used to review applications for peat operations.

The same regulation is used to review applications for exploration and extraction of:

  • sand
  • gravel
  • clay
  • marl
  • topsoil
  • peat

For pit and borrow activities on public land, reclamation certificates are required. This is dictated by the Conservation and Reclamation Regulation. The The Alberta government and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) share regulating authority of borrow activities on public land. To learn more, visit: Surface Material Applications on Public Lands.

Private land

Large (Class I) pits

As of July 2018, there are approximately 900 Class I pits in Alberta.

Class I pits are 5 hectares (approximately 12.4 acres) or more in area and are on private land. The size limitation includes the entire disturbance area over the pit’s lifetime, including:

  • the pit itself
  • roads
  • stockpiles
  • other temporary facilities

Operators must register with the Alberta government before constructing, operating or reclaiming a Class I pit. They must also follow the requirements of:

Small (Class II) pits

It is estimated that there are more than 1,500 Class II pits in Alberta.

Class II pits are less than 5 hectares in size and are on private land.

There is no need for operators to register with the Alberta government. Class II pit operations do not fall under the Code of Practice for Pits.

Operators must conserve the land and reclaim these pits as regulated under the EPEA. They must also follow:

  • the Environmental Protection Guidelines for Pits
  • all components of the Water Act

Once a pit becomes larger than 5 hectares, cease all activity within it. Requirements for a Class I pit must be met before activity can resume. This includes a registration authorized by the Alberta government.

Additional information on pits

Borrow excavations

Like pits, borrow excavations are considered surface-material excavations. And like pits, they are regulated under the:

  • EPEA
  • Conservation and Reclamation Regulation

However, they are classified and regulated differently than pits.

A borrow excavation is material excavated for the construction of:

  • municipal or provincial roadways
  • water management infrastructure projects

For more information, see:


The Alberta government's regulatory process is supported by the Compliance Assurance Management Framework.

The framework’s purpose is to:

  • ensure operations comply with our regulations and authorizations
  • identify and correct non-compliance
  • educate and assist parties to prevent non-compliance
  • promote improvement in environmental performance

We conduct inspections. These site and field evaluations of regulated activities verify that requirements are being met.