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Energy companies use surface mining to recover resources from about 20 per cent of Alberta’s oil sands. It’s our job to ensure that companies extract oil from the sand responsibly. Once a company has finished mining in an area, we also regulate how the land is returned to its original (or equivalent) state. Companies must submit applications and receive our approval before developing this way.

How does surface mining work? 

In surface mining, companies use trucks and shovels to scoop up oil sands from the ground. The oil sands are then transported to extraction plants, where bitumen (heavy oil) is separated from the sand.

A company might decide to sell its extracted bitumen as a product on its own. Alternatively, it might decide to further upgrade the bitumen to synthetic crude oil. In either case, any environmental impacts such as tailings must be managed.

Protecting Albertans and the Environment 

Companies must meet our tailings performance commitments so that resources are conserved and reclamation can happen as soon as possible. Learn how we’re addressing the environmental impacts of tailings through the Tailings Management Framework.

We also require companies to estimate the volume of bitumen that can be recovered from their oil sands operations. Directive 082: Operating Criteria: Resource Recovery Requirements for Oil Sands Mine and Processing Plant Operations helps companies identify that amount.

Compliance and Enforcement

We conduct regular inspections and audits to make sure that companies are following our requirements. If we find that a company isn’t complying, we’ll take the appropriate compliance and enforcement actions and share our findings on the Compliance Dashboard.

Sharing Information

Our annual Water Use Performance Report outlines and evaluates how companies use water in mining operations.