Reclamation Research for Various Land Uses in the Oil Sands Region of Alberta, Canada

Resource Type
Terry Macyk
Martin Fung
Ron Pauls
Page Length

Syncrude Canada Ltd. produces 200,000 barrels of synthetic crude oil per day from its oil sands surface mining operations located 50 km north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. The three major types of materials generated by the oil sands mining and extraction process include overburden, coarse tailings sand, and fine tailings. The overburden and coarse tailings are reclaimed to a dry landscape. Since the mining operations are located in the Boreal Forest Region the major end land use is forestry. In addition to the establishment of trees and shrubs a multi-species ground cover is required to control soil erosion. In June 1993 the Alberta Research Council implemented a plot experiment consisting of 27 plots to evaluate the suitability of six native grass species for erosion control and co-establishment with white spruce (Picea glauca), aspen poplar (Populus tremuloides), jack pine (Pinus banksiana), and dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). Results to date indicate that white spruce and jack pine have a survival rate two-fold higher than aspen and dogwood and that survival rates are highest in the tall fescue treatments and lowest in the hard fescue and sheep fescue treatments. Syncrude Canada Ltd. is also assessing the feasibility of raising bison on a portion of their reclaimed lands. In 1992 the Alberta Research Council initiated a study to assess the impact of bison grazing on soil quality. Soils in the adjacent undisturbed forest and four reclaimed areas where the soils were reconstructed using different replacement techniques are being monitored. Monitoring at the reconstructed areas involves measurements at grazed and ungrazed locations. Field sampling and laboratory analyses are conducted annually. Volumetric water content, bulk density, and penetration resistance are measured four to five times and water infiltration once during the growing season. To date, grazing has had no significant effect on the physical properties of the reconstructed soils.