Progressive reclamation is a priority for industry
Developing Canada’s natural gas resource does impact the land. But, with effective regulations and industry best practices, those impacts are limited and land is returned to as close as possible to its original state once natural gas properties are no longer able to produce.
Reclaiming the land
The average life of a natural gas well is about 20 to 30 years. Reclamation, or returning the land to its previous or better state, begins at the project planning phase when operators develop plans in consultation with local stakeholders and government regulators. Once a natural gas well is no longer able to produce, physical reclamation of the site begins.
Progressive reclamation, or interim clean-up, is a standard best practice that means ‘cleaning up while you work’. Progressive reclamation re-establishes part of the disturbed area that is no longer required for ongoing operations. For example, when drilling a natural gas well is complete and the well is producing, the drilling equipment is removed and the drilling area can be re-contoured and may be reseeded, while the well produces for the next 20 to 30 years. When the well is no longer able to produce, the next part of reclamation can begin for the actual well site and the associated infrastructure such as gathering pipelines and other equipment used to produce of natural gas.
Ruled by regulations
In both Alberta and British Columbia, the operator of a well site is responsible for reclaiming or restoring the land once a natural gas well is no longer able to produce. These obligations are mandated by the provincial regulator. Natural gas operators must clean up well sites both on the surface and subsurface to meet regulatory standards and requirements. Once standards are met, the regulator will issue a reclamation certificate.
Testing is critical
Throughout the reclamation process, both the soil and water, at surface and subsurface, are tested to ensure the reclaimed land is not contaminated and would not pose a risk to public health.
How is the land reclaimed?
The process of reclamation is slightly different on each site as each site is different. However, the approach to reclamation follows standard regulations. Reclamation may include:
- Soil screening, replacement, or fertilizing
- Replanting vegetation
- Seed planting
- Removal of waste material
- Repairing or building drainage systems
- Ground re-contouring
Why does reclamation take so long?
Once a site has been reclaimed, the natural gas operator will apply for a reclamation certificate or a certificate of restoration. Before a certificate is issued by the regulator, the regulator will conduct an assessment of the site. Additional work may be required before the land in question is considered a self-sustaining ecosystem and a certificate is issued. This process can take many years to achieve.