From fish to finish: A ten-year success story at our North Steepbank Mine Extension

It’s been 10 years since we built a small compensation pond at the North Steepbank Extension (NSE), and the project is going swimmingly. 

The pond was constructed to compensate for fish that were relocated due to the mine development, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) provided guidance to aid Suncor’s monitoring efforts as part of the Fisheries Act Authorization. 

Monitoring continued for 10 years to ensure the new habitat was meeting the DFO requirements. Even through the challenges of COVID-19, the team was able to safely complete the monitoring activities, including water quality and quantity testing, vegetation and habitat assessments and the highlight of the program: a “fish fence” observation station. This unique contraption ensured monitoring crews could track population and movement through humanely capturing, measuring, weighing and re-releasing over 9,500 fish, including several that contained eggs and showed spawning colours.

Several larger suckers were also captured during the program, which is especially significant since the pond was designed for smaller forage fish, like minnows. These larger fish had naturally made their way to the pond, swimming over two kilometers from the Steepbank River upstream to make it to the compensation pond, proof that nature will find a way—especially with some expert help.

This year, Suncor submitted data demonstrating the pond is functioning as an ecologically self-sustaining system with an anticipated fish population and met all the conditions and targets. 

“It’s really exciting to watch how the pond has matured throughout the past 10 years,” says Keith Dickson, Manager, Water Resources, Upstream. “For the many people who were involved in the development of the pond, from construction to monitoring, especially the Suncor Field Services environmental team and Hatfield Consultants, this is a really big moment. All of Suncor can be proud of the long-term sustainability of this pond, which allowed the development of the NSE to proceed.”