With this year being the UN International Year of Forests (see UN Forests 2011), we thought it would be appropriate to look at oil sands development’s impact on Alberta’s boreal forest. (2011 also happens to be the Year of the Rabbit, but try as we might, we can’t yet think of a good reason to talk about small, fluffy creatures).
This is simply nonsense.
The area-the-size-of-England claim assumes that all the land with underlying oil sands is destined for surface mining, which involves total surface vegetation removal to create large open pits. In reality, most of the oil sands lie too deep for mining. Only about 3% of the boreal forest surface area over the oil sands could ever be practically mined. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has an excellent booklet which explains visually the real impact of oil sands development on Alberta’s landscape. (See CAPP Oil Sands facts and check out the diagrams on page 48/49).
For the 97% of land overlying oil sands deposits not suitable for mining, in-situ technologies are used. These technologies are more like drilling and have a much smaller land footprint. With in-situ, only spot areas of forest are disturbed for well pads and seismic lines. And, unlike mine sites, they can be reclaimed more easily and more quickly.
As of August 2010, there were 91 active oil sands projects in Alberta. Of these, only four were mining projects, the type of operation portrayed as typical by some critics.
Dramatic pictures of mine sites notwithstanding, only 0.02% of Canada’s boreal forest has been disturbed by oil sands mining in the last 40+ years. Meanwhile, about 90,000 square km (or 24%) of Alberta’s boreal forest is protected from any kind of development.
We recognize the importance of the boreal forest and have pledged to continuously reduce our land impact and accelerate the reclamation of disturbed areas, through use of new tailings management technologies and other techniques. We are also working with Boreal Leadership Council to preserve the boreal forest in Canada (See Boreal Action Plan ) and reduce our environmental footprint.