Sunday, June 1, 2014

What is the fate of temporarily abandoned lands in Northeast Alberta?

Total recently announced they will further shelve their plans for the Joslyn North Mine oilsands project in northeast Alberta. Total received approval from the Alberta Government to proceed in September 2011, and since then, the project has functioned in fits and spurts. Production from the site was not anticipated before 2020.  The Voyageur Upgrader project was also abandoned in the region under similar conditions. Total's SAGD initiative has also been a bust for them, quite literally. They had a high pressure well blowout and have sold the as-is unused processing plant to Cenovus. All economically untenable. In August the company said it will not make a decision to proceed with the Joslyn mine until at least 2017.  This aligns with their Approval in that they must submit a variety of plans including Life of Mine Closure Plan, Soil Placement Plan, Revegetation Plan, and a Wetland Reclamation Plan by December 31, 2017.   What until then?

There are always a variety of potential outcomes in any development process.  Each has a probability. Each individual project's progress is a reflection of the multitude of processes in play.  And then the world unfolds as it does. The energy business is anything but a printing press for money - hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance are all needed. Investment decisions of this magnitude are not ever made lightly.

Regarding the current status of the operation and it's path forward, I am thinking that the environmental approval process will have given some direction for the lands that have been disturbed and lay bare unexpectedly? A cursory review of the Approval (00228044-00-00 JOSLYN NORTH MINE PROJECT) does not reveal those details immediately.  There is significant detail allocated to the various process that make up the reclamation and closure process, including reclamation objectives.  However, the original approval was based upon operations starting in 2013.  Below are images from approx. 2008 and September 2013.  CNRL's Horizon Mine operations are immediately adjacent to the north (top of second photo).  Significant dewatering and clearing for forest cover has taken place on the Joslyn property.

I have worked on numerous abandoned project sites, mostly mining legacies, and they can be challenging propositions. This is vastly different, but appropriate and proper land management should apply to lands that are potentially sitting idle for years at a time in the middle of a company's own uncertainty to proceed.

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