Industry partnerships with a range of leading global researchers are breathing life back into land disturbed by development, a leader in Canada’s oil sands industry told delegates to the RE3 biodiversity conference in Quebec City.
From new techniques to regrow native vegetation to advanced tracking of how wildlife is responding to newly reclaimed lands, Jack O’Neill, director of the land environmental priority area at Pathways Alliance shared how scientists within industry, governments and academic institutions are working together to “reclaim, restore and rewild” the boreal forest.
“The partnerships created through COSIA and Pathways Alliance are unprecedented among competitors and demonstrate our industry’s commitment to reduce the environmental footprint of oil sands operations,” said O’Neill. “By leveraging partnerships and fostering cooperation, we’ve created an environment where knowledge, expertise, and resources are shared seamlessly. These collaborations have resulted in globally significant reclamation and restoration work in Alberta’s boreal forest.”
Within the Land Environmental Priority Area, three notable programs stand out for their significant contributions to the reclamation and restoration efforts in Canada’s oil sands industry. The first is the Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative, a collaborative initiative that brings together experts in botany, ecology, and reclamation to coordinate research and harvest the seeds required to reclaim the land. This program focuses on understanding the unique challenges faced in regenerating diverse plant communities for creating sustainable ecosystems.
The second program, the Early Successional Wildlife Dynamics Program is tracking the return of wildlife to areas that have been reclaimed. Evidence is demonstrating that the reclaimed upland landscapes are providing the ecosystem services required to support the same diversity of wildlife that are present in areas adjacent to oil sands mines.
The third program highlighted included Boreal Ecosystem Recovery and Assessment (BERA), a multi-sectoral research partnership now in its second phase of a 10-year program. BERA is conducting research to create a greater understanding of the dynamics of disturbed land in the boreal forest. A greater understanding of the disturbed land will lead to improved and successful restoration practices.
O’Neill also took the opportunity to speak about the efforts of the Pathways Alliance; the group of Canada’s largest oil sands producers working to achieve net zero from operations by 2050.
“Oil sands producers are working together with governments on an ambitious and actionable plan to help Canada meet both its 2030 Paris commitments and our collective 2050 net zero goal,” said O’Neill. “It’s a three-phase plan that includes a foundational carbon capture and storage project and more than 70 technology development projects that working groups are studying and advancing.”
The Pathways Alliance plan illustrates how industry and government can work together to reduce emissions from oil sands operations by 22 million tonnes per year by 2030 and reach net zero emissions from operations by 2050.
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