Once the final product is shipped to refineries, a footprint remains. This can include open pit mine holes, process water dykes and emissions. And important part of the process of oil sands mining and extraction is understanding the complexity of the surrounding ecosystems, to help develop reclamation plans to determine how to return productive areas to self-sustaining productive states, which is also required by the lease agreements. This is monitored by a state of the art environmental monitoring program and communication with stakeholders including environmental groups and aboriginal people. Protecting the environment is a shared responsibility involving industry, government and consumers of hydrocarbon products.
A large part of the mining also involves clearing trees and brush from sites and removing the overburden – topsoil, muskeg, sand, clay and gravel – that sits atop the deposit. The topsoil and muskeg are stockpiled so they can be replaced, and section of the mined-out area are reclaimed. The rest of the overburden is also used to reconstruct the landscape when the mining is completed.
Developers are required to restore oil sands mining sites to at least the equivalent of their previous biological productivity – the region as a whole has to form an ecosystem as healthy as it was before development. Alberta Environment has a web page devoted to the topic of oil sands and greenhouse gas (GHG), at http://www.environment.alberta.ca/2881.html.