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Amphibious vehicles are making game-changing strides to restore land

April 2020 – 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 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. After several years of testing amphibious vehicles and equipment, we recently made the decision to fully integrate them into our land restoration plans. Unlike conventional excavators, amphibious vehicles can maneuver through the muskeg in the summer and fall when the ground is thawed, giving us flexibility to engage in land restoration activities throughout the year.

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

“Amphibious vehicles are a game-changer because we can restore land in any season, at a faster pace, lower cost and with minimal environmental impact,” says Ted Johnson, Cenovus Group Lead, Environmental Solutions & Systems. “With this in mind, we used amphibious vehicles to restore land last summer and plan to do so again this year.”

Amphibious vehicles are now an integral element of our Caribou Habitat Restoration Project to return 4,000 kilometres of old seismic lines and other linear features to forest cover by 2030 and plant up to 5 million trees. This project, announced as a voluntary initiative in 2016, is now a component of our land and wildlife sustainability targets launched in January 2020.

The amphibious vehicles project is a great example of successful industry collaboration. Cenovus initially worked through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) to test the vehicles with Devon Canada (now Canadian Natural Resources Limited) and ConocoPhillips, and COSIA members are able to use this technology for their own restoration work.