Transforming a well site or pipeline site back to what the land looked like before development started, and how it was used, can’t happen overnight. It also can’t happen on its own. The company responsible for using the land must follow a series of steps in an often long process known as reclamation.
To properly reclaim any oil and gas site at the end of a project’s life cycle, a company must follow the reclamation process and criteria listed below. When reclamation is complete, the company can apply through OneStop to receive a reclamation certificate. A reclamation certificate is like a badge that certifies that the land has been restored and that all of our reclamation requirements have been met.
Every company must obtain a reclamation certificate to close its projects and end its surface leases.
Reclamation Process and Criteria for Oil and Gas Sites
Jump to a stage to learn what it means and what we expect:
- Site assessment
- Review process
- Reclamation inspections and audits
A company must start to prepare for reclamation at the very beginning of an energy project’s life cycle. The company must understand our reclamation requirements and the potential challenges of reclaiming its site, and it should continually review its reclamation plans throughout the life cycle of the project—right up until the site has been safely suspended and abandoned.
After an energy site has been safely abandoned, the hands-on work to close a project starts with decommissioning. Decommissioning involves removing as much infrastructure as possible from the site—facilities, surface pipelines, wells, and so on. Only infrastructure that is considered to be an improvement can be left on the land (e.g., an access road left in place for the landowner’s use). The company must receive the landowner’s written permission to leave infrastructure on the land.
A company must clean up any contamination, such as on-lease spills, at the site before reclaiming the land or applying for a reclamation certificate. This step includes a number of assessments:
- phase 1 environmental site assessment: This assessment identifies any potential contamination both on and off lease. When completed, this assessment must be submitted through OneStop. Learn more.
- phase 2 environmental site assessment: This assessment must be completed only if potential contamination was identified in phase 1. Phase 2 gathers information about the nature, depth, and extent of the contamination. Learn more.
- Alberta Tier 1 and 2 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines: If the contamination levels in soil and groundwater exceed levels in the remediation guidelines, the company must remediate to meet the levels in the guidelines. Soil remediation is not limited to the surface; contaminants at any depth must not exceed the levels in the guidelines.
- Native Prairie Protocol: This tool helps identify well sites on native grasslands where leaving salt contamination in place will not result in adverse effects to the ecosystem, which is very sensitive to disturbance. Learn more.
When any contamination is safely and responsibly removed, the company has the option of applying for a remediation certificate. Though not required, this certificate indicates that the company’s remediation efforts have satisfied our requirements.
See our Contamination Management Tools and Resources page for remediation guides, forms, and other information.
Reclamation can take a considerable amount of time depending on the original land type (e.g., forest, native grassland, peatland, or farm land). The length of time it takes to revegetate the site will depend on the amount of soil disturbance. Companies have a duty to
- minimize land disturbance;
- salvage, store, and replace soil;
- restore drainage; and
- revegetate an area as per reclamation criteria
Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has published several documents that set out reclamation criteria. These criteria help a company assess whether its site is reclaimed and eligible for a reclamation certificate. Every company is required to meet these criteria before applying for a reclamation certificate.
In general, assessment requirements are reduced (i.e., fewer criteria) for simpler sites and are increased (i.e., greater criteria) for more complex sites.
A company can apply for a reclamation certificate through OneStop after
- the above reclamation work has been completed,
- the site meets its reclamation criteria based on the end land use, and
- professional sign off has been obtained following reclamation, and in accordance with AEP’s criteria documents.
The company must provide a paper copy of the entire application to the landowner and occupant, and must provide the landowner and occupant with information on how to submit a statement of concern.
Our Reclamation Certificate Application Submissions page lists what documentation to include with the reclamation certificate application.
We share all applications on our Public Notice of Application page for 30 days to encourage public participation in the approval process.
- Anyone who believes that they may be directly and adversely affected by an application can file a statement of concern. If we receive a statement of concern, it may take us longer than normal to process the application.
- As soon as OneStop receives the application, the system will complete a baseline review and determine the complexity of the application. If the application is more complex, it will require additional manual review. Find out when additional review is needed.
- Our final decision will be posted on our Public Notice of Decision page for 30 days.
If we issue a reclamation certificate, landowners or occupants may file a request for regulatory appeal if they have concerns about the decision. They can also engage in our alternative dispute resolution process at any point in a project’s life cycle to help resolve concerns.
Even after we issue a reclamation certificate, a company remains responsible for surface issues related to reclamation, such as topography, vegetation, soil texture, and drainage, for 25 years, and remains permanently responsible for contamination and any infrastructure left beneath the surface.
To ensure that companies meet our reclamation standards and guidelines, we conduct regular inspections and audits of reclaimed sites. We audit reclamation-certified sites every year, either randomly or based on risk. We perform two types of audits: desktop audits and field audits.
If we find a company is providing false or misleading information, or is not meeting reclamation standards, we may take enforcement action to bring the company back into compliance.
In a desktop audit, our staff verify documentation provided by the company. We conduct desktop audits to ensure that companies are providing us with correct information. If we identify any risks associated with an application, we will conduct a more comprehensive desktop audit. Based on our findings, we may also conduct a field audit.
Out in the field, our staff will assess whether the company’s reclamation work meets our reclamation requirements. We will also inspect the following:
- vegetation quality and quantity
- soil quality and quantity
- site topography and landscape
- evidence of remaining facilities
- visual indicators of contamination
- any other parameters flagged by the desktop audit
We may also inspect the site for contamination below the land surface (subsurface contamination). This work might include collecting soil samples for lab analysis or conducting electromagnetic surveys.
Reasons for Cancelling Certificates
Reclamation certificates may be cancelled at any time if it is determined that a company has
- submitted an incomplete or inaccurate reclamation certificate application or one that contained inconsistent information;
- failed to assess the site for contamination, where required; or
- failed to comply with the remediation guidelines or reclamation criteria without adequate justification within the reclamation certificate application.