Removing the Wellsite Footprint: Recommended Practices for Construction and Reclamation of Wellsites on Upland Forests in Boreal Alberta

Terry Osko
Maggie Glasgow
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Wellsite reclamation criteria in Alberta have historically been based on a paradigm of returning land to equivalent land capability. Unfortunately, this paradigm has treated all landscapes as equivalent and therefore has not addressed differences in ecological function, land use, or economic opportunities associated with unique land types (forests, peatlands, grasslands, agricultural land). As a result, previous wellsite reclamation criteria have been successful in protecting reclaimed wellsites on forested land from soil loss by erosion, but have been unsuccessful in restoring ecological function or their natural ability to grow a forest. Wellsites drilled and abandoned on forested land in Alberta during the 1960’s through much of the 1990’s have generally been very slow to recover to natural forest. Many sites have remained relatively barren of trees, while trees on sites that are more densely treed are much smaller than would be expected from the age of the sites. Our goal for this project
was to contribute to best practices for wellsite construction and reclamation on forested lands within the Green Area of northeastern Alberta that will enable appropriate revegetation and accelerate recovery of ecological processes after disturbance. The desired outcome of which are functioning forests that contribute to both the ecological and economic health of Alberta. We investigated past, present, and potential practices to discover opportunities to enhance reclamation success on boreal wellsite disturbances in terms of ecological recovery, addressing three main questions: What factors or combination of factors lead to impaired site productivity or ecological impairment? Can these factors be mitigated during the construction phase? If not during construction, can these factors be mitigated during reclamation? We focused primarily on two types of construction, winter-constructed upland wellsites and permanent clay pads built on lowlands from borrowed clay fill, as well as the
borrow areas associated with clay pads. Our recommendations result from empirical observations of various wellsites including historical oil & gas wellsites constructed from the 1960’s to 1990’s, previously constructed in situ Oil Sands Exploration (OSE) wells (winter 2002/03), new winterconstructed sites selected for study treatment, observation well pads constructed from borrowed clay fill, and borrow pits. Additional recommendations have been made based on general observations of practices and processes involved in completing winter OSE well drilling programs, as well as interviews with drilling and other relevant contractors.