There is uncertainty related to the long-term consequences of reconstructing landscapes on Alberta’s specified lands. Alberta has over 100,000 wellsites that have been certified under evolving reclamation criteria over the past 50+ years. These wellsites are not currently revisited post-certification to evaluate their long-term ecological recovery. Ecological recovery is achieved when the biological, physical and chemical properties (e.g., vegetation community composition, soil properties) of a reclaimed site are similar to the properties of an undisturbed reference or pre-disturbance site. With the lack of long-term monitoring of wellsites post-certification in Alberta, there is currently no way of knowing if or when ecological recovery will be achieved on these reclaimed sites. The absence of this information is a potential liability that detracts from government’s stewardship commitments, and from industry’s social license to operate on public lands.
The Ecological Recovery Monitoring (ERM) Project Team was established in November 2012. The overarching goals of the ERM are to: i) undertake a field study to assess historical wellsites to address key knowledge gaps that currently constrain the assessment of ecological recovery after reclamation, and ii) create a scientifically-robust, transparent, and financially-sustainable long-term monitoring program to assess the ecological recovery of reclaimed wellsites. The initial focus on wellsites will provide a foundation for future work on other energy sector footprints.