Oil and natural gas exploration and production, including oil sands development, does impact land. Land is a consideration throughout the lifecycle of a project, from project planning through to project closure and reclamation — returning disturbed land to a productive state.
Oil and natural gas activity impacts the land. Environmental conservation is a consideration throughout a project, from planning to reclamation and reforestation. Our footprint is a concern and industry is working to reduce land disruption, with a focus on restoration and protecting wildlife.
Environmental protection efforts begin at the project planning stage, as companies look for opportunities to avoid sensitive habitats, minimize the surface area needed, and work with other users to reduce land footprint. This includes locating roads so they can be shared by multiple operators.
Minimizing Land Impacts
Canada’s oil and natural gas industry minimizes land impacts by avoiding sensitive habitat, creating narrow seismic lines, drilling multiple wells from a single well pad, employing low-impact pipeline construction methods and many other measures.
The challenge is to reduce the size and duration of land impacts in order to maintain the biodiversity and to support natural ecosystems. From initial exploration through to project closure, companies strive to achieve timely reclamation and restoration.
Throughout a project, oil and natural gas companies work with numerous stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples, local communities, governments and landowners, to understand and address concerns about potential impacts on the community, the land and biodiversity.
Myth: Oil sands development is disturbing vast areas of land
A common myth is that oil sands development is destroying an area of land greater than the size of England. It’s just not true.
Technology Reduces the Footprint
Horizontal drilling and the use of multi-well drilling pads have greatly reduced the amount of land disturbed in drilling operations. For example, a 20-well horizontal drilling pad disturbs about 5% of the land that would be impacted by drilling an equal number of separate wells.
Protecting Wildlife and Biodiversity
Oil and natural gas activity occurs in diverse landscapes that are home to many species of plants and animals, and protecting species and habitat is an important consideration in the planning for oil and natural gas development.
Land reclamation by the oil and natural gas industry ensures that the land used for energy production is returned to a productive state. Detailed reclamation plans are part of a company’s application for approval of a project. Land reclamation follows standard steps.
Speeding Reclamation with Innovation and Technology
Canada’s oil sands industry is working to improve the management of tailings ponds, both in the monitoring of active tailings ponds and in developing technologies to reclaim them faster.
Companies conduct many research programs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of reclamation. For example, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (Canadian Natural) is examining improved methods of soil salvage to retain the valuable characteristics of soil nutrients and structures, as well as seed and roots for revegetation.
Ovintiv is collaborating with several First Nations in B.C. to select the best native plant species for revegetation, and their wetland reclamation project near Nordegg, Alberta now supports moose, elk, black and grizzly bears, wolves, deer and a number of waterfowl species.
Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP)
Alberta’s Land-Use Framework is developing regional plans to safeguard air and water quality in a given region – while increasing the land set aside for conservation. As the first of seven plans, LARP addresses the unique ecosystems in the Lower Athabasca Region, where the majority of oil sands operations take place. The plan is a product of consultation with Albertans, First Nations and experts on social, economic and environmental issues.
LARP’s strategy is based on the objectives outlined in the air quality, water quality, water quantity, groundwater and tailings management frameworks. The plans recognize the economic significance of Alberta’s oil sands, aiming to balance economic growth with environmental conservation.
Collaborating to Improve Performance
Through various partnerships and programs, industry is working together to develop innovative solutions to improve environmental performance. The Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund (AUPRF) was created to minimize the environmental impact of the industry through research and development, innovation, and collaboration.
The B.C. Oil and Gas Research Innovation Society (OGRIS) is a not-for-profit society with membership from CAPP, Explorers and Producers Association of Canada and the BC Oil and Gas Commission and serves to enable relevant applied research to inform environmental matters related to oil and natural gas exploration and development in B.C.