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Amphibious vehicles offer game-changing solution to restore land

One of the amphibious vehicles crossing wet terrain during the pilot in November 2015.

February 2016 – It’s wet, muddy and difficult to reach. Much of the land in northern Alberta is muskeg, meaning it has a swamp-like consistency. That creates challenges for restoring land near our oil sands operations. Working in this region often requires creative approaches because our machinery can get stuck in the boggy terrain.

That’s where amphibious vehicles come in. Using machines that can drive on land and float on water is a first for restoration in the oil sands.

Before testing amphibious vehicles, we were limited to doing land restoration work in January and February. The heavy excavators that traditionally do this work can only operate when the ground is frozen.

“In November 2015, we successfully tested two amphibious vehicles with modified tracks and an air-filled undercarriage that allow them to safely navigate the muskeg even when it’s not frozen,” says Ted Johnson, Cenovus Group Lead, Land & Biodiversity. “We found the vehicles were able to do restoration work on soft soil and cross a creek without causing damage or stirring up sediment in the water.”

The tests also showed that amphibious vehicles can potentially restore more than two times the area of land per day compared to standard machines, and can potentially extend the traditional January-February operating season to year-round.

“Some of the restoration work we’re completing using these amphibious vehicles includes mounding the ground to make high, dry areas for seedlings to take root and bending tree stems to make it harder for caribou predators like wolves to navigate old seismic lines,” says Ted. “These vehicles are a game-changer because they have the potential to do restoration work in any season, at a faster pace, a lower cost and with minimal environmental impact.”

The pilot test was also an example of industry collaboration. Cenovus worked through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) to test the vehicles with Devon and ConocoPhillips.