Reclaiming lands deforested by oil sands excavation has been one of the greatest challenges of the burgeoning oil industry in Alberta. Success with winter replanting of spruce trees undertaken by researchers from Grande Prairie Regional College offers an exciting new remedy for this industry problem.
Boreal wetlands disturbed by oil sands operation are not accessible in the summer for reclamation. And the excessive moisture content of the soil reduces seedling survival. Therefore, reclamation of the wetlands is difficult and limited during the regular planting season. The novel idea of winter planting to avoid these limitations was advanced by Dr. Weixing Tan, the principal investigator of Pollutants-toProducts (P2P) initiative at Grande Prairie. Frozen wetland soil was broken by a backhoe and seedlings were planted in the warmer peaty soil exposed.
Over 94 per cent of black spruce seedlings survived on a wetland site when planted during winter in 2011 at -17°C. This success was so significant that industry put it into practice immediately on large scale even before the trial was fully completed. And Suncor’s CEO Steve Williams highlighted it as one of the major innovations in oil sands reclamation effort in 2012.
The trial was conducted at the Evergreen Centre for Resource Excellence & Innovation in Grande Prairie, Alberta with additional funding and support from Oil Sands Leadership Initiative (now COSIA), the Alberta Government, Next Generation Reforestation, and Global Restoration Corp.
“This unique concept of planting trees in winter will allow us to have an easier access to the wetlands so as to enhance the restoration processes of natural ecosystems in the boreal region,” enthused Jeremy Reid, Environmental Specialist with Nexen Inc.
Funding support from the College and Community Innovation program, industry and government has also contributed to the development of three other innovative Pollutants-to-Products (P2P) projects at Grande Prairie: bio-capture of CO2 and air pollutants using microalgae, white spruce reforestation, and turning waste water to wood.