A closer look at progressive reclamation: Imperial’s Kearl oil sands mine

We carefully consider land use, biodiversity and ecosystems right from the planning phase of our oil sands operations. Our commitment is to return the land to its natural state, or better.

With a best-practice progressive reclamation approach, we’re able to start the reclamation process very early in the life cycle of our operations.

In June 2017, we completed 12.5 ha of reclamation at our Kearl site, which has only been in operation for about five years and has a life expectancy of 40 to 60 years.

The reclamation activity included placement of approximately 100,000 m3 of organic soil (a 60:40 peat-mineral mix) saved from areas that will soon be mined.


Dozers scored the steep slopes around the overburden disposal area to help the reclamation material stick to the existing surface, and then spread a 50-cm layer of reclamation material.

Excavators with bucket attachments textured the slope by creating 30- to 40-cm mounds, arranged in a checkerboard pattern to:

  • help prevent runoff water from pooling at the base of the slope
  • create habitat variations (shade, sunlight, wet, dry) to support different plant and animal species

More than 1,100 m3 of coarse woody debris, also salvaged from upcoming mining areas, was then scattered across the mounds to provide erosion control, and create additional microsites.

Following earthworks activities, about 58,000 seedlings of 10 different native tree and shrub species were planted on the slopes.

Finally, a berm was created at the top of the slope around the perimeter of the active work area along with reclamation signage to act as a safety barrier for vehicles and machinery working nearby.

Operations will continue to build the overburden disposal area higher, followed by additional reclamation.

Did you know?

  • One hectare is 10,000 square metres, or about the size of an average stadium sports field.
  • Canada’s oil sands are found under the vast Boreal Forest Natural Region of northern Alberta. The area experiences short summers; long, cold winters; and is made up of deciduous, mixed-wood and coniferous forests interspersed with extensive peatlands (bogs or fens).

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