Reclamation Process & Criteria


Reclamation Process & Criteria


Upstream Oil and Gas Reclamation & Remediation Program                       


Wells are abandoned when they are no longer needed to support oil and gas development or because an operator’s mineral lease has expired. The well must be abandoned to meet the Oil and Gas Conservation Rules and Directive 020: Well Abandonment

Pipelines that are buried on site can remain in place as long as they are abandoned in accordance with the Pipeline Rules and are at a depth that will not affect the end land use.


Only infrastructure that is considered to be an improvement can be left on the land, and the operator must have the landowner’s written acceptance to do so. An access road left in place for the landowner’s use would be an example. 


  • A Phase 1 environmental site assessment (ESA) must be completed to determine the likelihood of contamination on and off lease. A Phase 1 ESA submission is a component of the reclamation certificate process 
  • If the results of the Phase 1 ESA indicate contamination is likely, a Phase 2 ESA is required to determine the concentrations of substances of potential concern, the depth and areal extent of contamination, and whether there is potential for groundwater impacts. 
  • Substance concentrations in soil and groundwater that exceed the Alberta Tier 1 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines or Alberta Tier 2 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines must be remediated to meet criteria. Soil remediation is not limited to the surface and must ensure contaminants at any depth do not exceed levels in the Alberta Tier 1 or Tier 2 guidelines.


  • Following remediation, if it was required, the site needs to be put back to as close to the original topography as possible to ensure drainage is restored.
  • Subsoil and topsoil must be replaced.
  • The site must be revegetated to ensure it meets the appropriate end land use requirements described in the reclamation criteria documents (see criteria below)


  • The site is assessed against the requirements (see criteria below) to ensure the reclamation criteria are met. 


The operator (licensee) prepares the reclamation certificate application after the above work has been completed and the site has been assessed to meet the applicable criteria based on the end land use and when a professional has signed off on each component (Phase 1 ESA, Phase 2 ESA, Phase 3 remediation report, reclamation assessment) in accordance with Alberta Environment and Parks’s requirements.

Reclamation Process and Criteria for Upstream Oil and Gas Well Sites and Associated Facilities

The AER follows the standards set out in the Reclamation Criteria for Well Sites and Associated Facilities (see below). The criteria are divided into separate documents for four land uses: cultivated lands, forested lands, native grasslands, and peatlands.

The criteria provide a flexible approach that reduces assessment requirements for simple sites while recommending a greater level of effort for more complex or difficult sites. The criteria place greater emphasis on assessing crop productivity on cultivated land and re-establishing forest, native grassland, and peatland ecosystems.

Reclamation Criteria Documents

These and other documents help explain the reclamation criteria for well sites and associated facilities. For a comprehensive list please see the Wellsite Reclamation Certificate Application Process.

Requirements for Coal and Oil Sands Exploration Programs

The Code of Practice for Exploration Operations has been developed to replace previous approval requirements.

Operators affected by any code must meet all of its requirements to ensure that their activities comply with Alberta's environmental laws.

Oil Sands Exploration (OSE) and Coal Exploration Program (CEP) Annual Report Requirements

The holder of an approved OSE program or CEP on public lands must submit reports in accordance with the approval. These reports must be submitted to

  • The authorization holder must provide an annual report as outlined within the notice of decision to the AER within 60 days of March 31 each year of the program until a reclamation certificate is issued.
  • The annual report must include the following information:
    • requirements consistent with section 7.1.5 of the Code of Practice for Exploration Operations made under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act;
    • the area of new disturbance cleared or used as approved under the program;
    • any sites added to the program, including the authorization issued by the regulator;
    • the total area of intensely used (i.e., disturbed) lands included in the program;
    • a listing of all core hole sites or accesses converted to disposition under the Public Lands Act;
    • the total area of lands within the program cleared but not explored to date and intent for completion; and
    • any other pertinent information relevant to the program.
  • Annual and final reports for exploration on private land must be submitted in accordance with the Code of Practice for Exploration Operations to

OSE and CEP Reclamation Timelines

  • The OSE and CEP authorization is approved for a maximum of five years—two years for operations and three years for reclamation.
  • The Code of Practice for Exploration Operations gives operators two full growing seasons to complete reclamation and three full growing seasons to apply for a reclamation certificate. That being said, to help ensure reclamation success, the AER encourages operators to complete reclamation within one year of the surface disturbance.
  • If reclamation has not been successful within five years, a miscellaneous lease application for environmental monitoring reclamation research may be made to the AER to remove unsuccessful areas from the OSE or CEP program. The operator may then apply for a reclamation certificate for the reclaimed area.

OSE and CEP Reclamation Requirements

Application Process for Overlapping Exemptions and Liability Reduction for Multiwell Facilities

What is an overlapping exemption?
When a portion of the site is overlapped by another activity and the remaining portion of the site is reclamation certified, the site can be considered for an overlapping exemption. Overlapping exemptions may be used in situations where there are two or more specified-land activities on an area of land. Examples where the AER would consider granting an overlapping exemption include the following:

  • two operators sharing a portion of an access road
  • a pit or a mine going through a well site
  • a re-entry well where the lease area is slightly different
  • overlapping well site leases

The AER requires that anyone applying for an overlapping exemption submit a complete Application for Exemption from Requirement to Obtain a Reclamation Certificate Due to Presence of an Overlapping Activity form. For full details on the overlapping exemption policy and what is required in an application, see the Guide to Certification for Site Reductions, Additions, Overlaps, Multi-Well Facilities, and Forced Lease Boundary Changes.

Send applications for an overlapping exemption for private land to

Send applications for an overlapping exemption for public land through the Electronic Disposition System (account log-in and password required).

Any email to the AER regarding overlapping exemptions must include “overlapping exemptions” in the subject line of the email.

What is liability reduction?

The AER’s Licensee Liability Rating (LLR) program is designed to ensure that operators, not Albertans, address the costs of abandoning and reclaiming upstream oil and gas wells, facilities, pipelines, and their associated sites.

The LLR program is based on a comparison of assets (production or injection activity) to liabilities (abandonment and reclamation costs). When the liabilities outweigh the assets, the company must pay financial security to the AER for the difference.

The AER assesses assets and liabilities to ensure that licensees have the financial health to meet all their abandonment and reclamation obligations later on.

The liability is credited back to the licensee when a reclamation certificate has been issued. 

The Certification for Site Reductions, Additions, Overlaps, Multi-Well Facilities, and Forced Lease Boundary Changes includes a section on applying for liability reduction on a multiwell facility when one wellbore is abandoned through the AER’s Digital Data Submission (DDS) system. This guide replaces R&R/12-2 Guide to Certification for Wellsite Reductions, Additions, Overlaps, Multi-Well Facilities, and Forced Lease Boundary Changes.