Seeking the Right Balance: Financial Security for Conservation and Reclamation of Alberta's Oil Sands Mines

Edmonton, AB – Development of Alberta’s oilsands resources has significant environmental consequences and potentially long-lasting impact on land and water resources. Oil sands surface mining projects have caused radical changes in landscapes and tailings ponds represent a significant ongoing challenge.

Alberta’s current environmental framework is based on the “polluter pays” principle: those who make the mess clean it up and are responsible for associated costs. However, when polluters are unwilling or unable to clean up impacted lands, responsibility may be shifted onto taxpayers. The requirement for oil sands mine operators to provide security deposits is intended to keep this from happening. But how is Alberta doing?

Seeking the Right Balance provides readers with a legal review and analysis of Alberta’s reclamation security program and compares the Alberta program with other jurisdictions and academic work on the subject. It provides information on how reclamation securities are calculated, collected, and returned (or forfeited) for both oil sands mines and in situ recovery operations.

One key issue highlighted in the report is that public participation and transparency are lacking at all stages of the program, making it difficult to honestly answer how Alberta is doing. “It looks like there are problems,” says Cindy Chiasson, Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre, “but it’s tough to say exactly what they are because the information available is so limited.”

Seeking the Right Balance overcomes this lack of public information and provides an in-depth look at oil sands mining reclamation security requirements, processes, problems and recommendations including:

  • Establishing a formal security process;
  • Requiring third-party preparation of reclamation cost estimates;
  • Basing security amounts on reclamation costs;
  • Establishing a formal, public process for the return of reclamation security; and
  • Creating clear criteria for forfeiture of security.

You can download Seeking the Right Balance for free at or purchase at hard copy at

About the ELC

The ELC’s vision is a clean, healthy and diverse environment protected through informed citizen participation and sound law and policy, effectively applied. Its mission is to ensure that laws, policies and legal processes protect the environment.


Leah Orr
Communications Coordinator
Environmental Law Centre
1-800-661-4238 ext. 314
[email protected]