"We want to find the best researchers to deal with this issue – researchers who can uncover solutions on how to re-establish native plant communities in different ecological zones of the Alberta forest." - Hugh Seaton, NAIT
Shell is one of several energy companies working on new and more effective ways to reclaim land used in conventional well sites, pipelines, and roads in Alberta’s boreal forest.
The industry has been researching reclamation practices for years, but the Boreal Reclamation Program is the first time that different oil companies have come together with the government, First Nations and academics to discuss goals and share research toward better solutions.
Conrad Pilon with Shell Canada, left,
works with the research coordinator
of the Boreal Research Institute.
"It’s good that we’re all sitting down together to look at this," says Conrad Pilon, Shell’s Environmental Planner, Unconventional Oil. "The communication is really important."
The project is being run out of the NAIT Boreal Research Institute based in the town of Peace River. "We are very excited about this opportunity to create practical solutions for industry," says Hugh Seaton, the General Manager of the Institute. "We want to find the best researchers to deal with this issue – researchers who can uncover solutions on how to re-establish native plant communities in different ecological zones of the Alberta forest," he says.
Muskeg, for example, can be difficult to restore to its original condition. The low lying marsh consists of dead and decomposing plants with a lot of dead trees and a water table near the surface.
"When a muskeg pad has been there for 20 to 25 years, the muskeg under the pad has been compacted from operational traffic and pad maintenance," Pilon says.
"If you remove the borrow material (the soil from upland areas that’s used to build roads or pads in muskeg), you will most likely end up with a black hole of water. We are conducting research to determine if we can bring it back to muskeg," Pilon says.
Shell’s current practice is to reclaim muskeg (lowland sites) to an upland site of aspen, white spruce and mixed wood forest. The Boreal Reclamation Program is using old well and other sites near Peace River as research projects. Each of the site projects will be led by a team of competent researchers and reviewed by a technical committee.
In reclamation, energy companies return the land to a sustainable landscape. The province is changing the rules for reclaiming wellsites and other industrial impacts and now, there has to be two layers of native plant species instead of just grass seed.
The Boreal Reclamation Program is in its third year of field trials and is funded by Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions, Industry and the Alberta Government.