Peatland Ecology Research Group (PERG)
Université Laval
Peatlands and oil sands

Peatland restoration in the oil sands region

PERG has expanded in recent years, its activities in a new niche, that of rebuilding wetlands in the region of Alberta's where oil sands are exploited. The projects are conducted in collaboration with companies, such Suncor Energy and Shell, and with the participation of NAIT Boreal Research Institute (The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology).



Regeneration of peatlands on oil platforms 2010 - 2012

Description of the project:
Large areas are disturbed in northern Alberta because of the oil sands. The vast majority of petroleum resources are located in the boreal zone of the province, where peatlands are widely represented. Provincial legislation requires that land used for industrial purposes will be restored in an ecosystem productivity equal or greater than pre-disturbance (equivalent land capability). Despite this, knowledge on the restoration of mined peatlands for bitumen extraction are limited. Although 80% of Alberta's oil resources are accessible by standard drilling techniques (as opposed to open pit mining), no restoration of peatlands has been certified to date on oil platform.

Drilling rigs (in situ techniques) require the presence of operating platforms, built by successive compacted layers import of borrow material rich in clay. Habitat fragmentation and disturbance of hydrological regimes are among the considerations of most concern to the presence of supported platforms in the landscape. After site closure, current practices are to replant forest species and agricultural equipment loan. Leave platforms in the landscape without removing a portion of the clay layer will not facilitate the return of a hydrological regime appropriate for the restoration of peatland plant communities.

In Canada, many research projects in peatland restoration were carried out on mined peat bogs, where an organic residue is present on the surface to be restored. Reintroduction of species typical of fens is recommended if the substrate to restore has a minerotrophic profile. The absence of organic soil does not seem to prevent the regeneration of species typical of fens, if there is a constant supply of water from groundwater.

On disused oil rigs in the Peace River area, mature plants of Carex aquatilis and Salix lutea can survive and regenerate after being planted, if part of the borrow material is removed. The return of bryophytes remains a little known aspect of the restoration of platforms. An approach developed in eastern Canada, the Sphagnum transfer method, allowed to regenerate bryophytes fens on minerotrophic peat. Fen bryophytes regenerate relatively quickly from fragments, if the water table is near the surface.


The purpose of this study is to restore plant communities typical of peatlands on disused oil platforms using the technique of re-vegetation transfer of mosses.

We seek to determine: 1) whether the typical bog plants, bryophytes specifically, can regenerate directly on the hardware platform or if some amendments are needed (e.g. aspen
sawdust, spruce sawdust, peat and mineral soil of the platform), and 2) what plant community (bog, poor fen, moderately rich fen) is more successful on experimental substrates.


Two field experiments, conducted from 2010 to 2012 in Peace River, Alberta, were designed to determine which plant community regenerates best on what type of substrat.

A mechanical approach was used for the first experiment while the second was made entirely by hand. Additional experiments were conducted in greenhouses. The selected type of plant community as a source of diaspores is the key behind the success of regeneration of bryophytes in our experimental plots.


After two growing seasons, bog species have a recovery rate significantly lower than those of fen species. After one growing season, fmosses from moderately rich fen showed recovery rates significantly higher than those from poor fen. Tomenthypnum nitens, Aulocomium palustre and Drepanocladus ssp. regenerate quickly on all types of substrates.

The Sphagnum group had a low survival rate. A limiting effect of borrow material may be involved depending on the results of experiments in greenhouses.

None of the amendments tested does not influence significantly the success of regeneration of the species present. However, the presence of spruce sawdust significantly decreased the success of regeneration of vascular plants, while the peat increased it. The source of diaspores had little impact on their recovery rate. This dichotomy in the response of bryophytes and vascular plants was observed in both experiments in the field. These results suggest that an amendment of organic matter is not essential to the survival of bryophytes and vascular plants of fens on disused oil platform, but an amendment of peat can significantly increase the success of regeneration.

Our observations support the recommendation to restore communities typical of fens if the conditions of the substrate are minerotrophic. The siting of borrowing has already been discussed in the literature as an important element in the success of a restoration project. The results obtained on the regeneration of bryophytes in the experimental plots show that the short-term goal of the restoration of peatlands, which is the establishment of a moss layer composed of species typical of bogs, can be reached on platforms oil. Monitoring of plant communities in the medium term is recommended to document the ecological trajectory plots restored and guide the specific objectives of a restoration project on a larger scale.
This is the master thesis project of Marie-Eve Gauthier, who was supervised by Dr. Line Rochefort, in collaboration with Leonie Nadeau, NAIT Boreal Research Institute (Alberta).


Natural Regions Committee, 2006. Natural Regions and subregions of Alberta. Compiled by D. J. Downing and W.W. Pettapiece. Government of Alberta. Pub. No T/852.

Government of Alberta, 2009. Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Revised Statues of Alberta 2000. Chapter E-12. Current as of October 1, 2009. Alberta Queen's Printer. Available at

Osko, T., 2010. Gap Analysis of Wetland Reclamation Knowledge and Practices in Northern Alberta. Prepared by Circle T Consulting, Inc. CEMA Contract No. 2008-0024.

Government of Alberta, 2010. Alberta's Oil Sands Facts and stats. Available at

Schneider, R. & S. Dyer, 2006. Pembina Institute. Death by a Thousand Cuts: Impact of oil sands in situ development on Alberta's boreal forest. Available at

Alberta Environment, 2010. Reclamation Criteria for Wellsites and Associated Facilities for forested lands. Alberta Environment, Edmonton, Alberta. 99 pp.


Related Links:

Oil Sands Discovery Center:

NAIT Boreal Research Institute:


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