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Don’t Mine McClelland

McClelland Lake Wetland Complex is an important area for migratory birds amid a region full of toxic tailings ponds. The peats in the area help pull carbon from the atmosphere. But Suncor has plans to mine half of it, and we’re not confident the company can keep the other half healthy.

Why is the area important?

McClelland Lake complex is a wetland ecosystem in northern Alberta, about 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. It includes several important environmental features including McClelland Lake, a patterned fen (only 1 percent of the province’s wetlands have these), other wetlands, and sinkhole lakes.

The area provides an important stopover point and breeding ground for migratory bird species from across North America, including endangered species like the whooping crane. In addition to its biophysical properties, the area has socio-cultural importance for Indigenous communities in the region.

From above, the area looks like a mosaic: long rows of peat ridges (which started forming roughly 8,500 years ago) are separated by shallow pools of water. 

This area acts like nature’s kidneys; it helps filter and clean water and recharges surface and underground water supplies.

It also holds a lot of carbon.

Watch this two-minute video below to get a sense of the expansive, unique, and irreplaceable area.

Proposed mining puts it at risk.

Suncor owns the majority of a mine in northern Alberta called Fort Hills, which sits on the edge of McClelland wetland complex. Now, the company plans to expand this mine into the wetland complex. Suncor says in its operational plan, which was submitted to the Alberta Energy Regulator in 2021, that it can keep the unmined portion of the wetland unharmed while mining the other half of the complex. The Alberta Energy Regulator approved this plan in 2022; you can read the approval letter here.

Suncor’s Operational Plan has to guarantee the protection of the unmined portion of the wetland complex.

But our new report, which reviews Suncor’s Operational Plan, found major deficiencies in this plan and we think the unmined portion of the wetland complex is at serious risk if Suncor expands its mine. AWA contracted the services of two boreal peatland experts — Dr. Lorna Harris and Dr. Kelly Biagi — as part of the review of the Operational Plan. The experts found that Suncor’s mitigation strategy poses a significant risk of irreversible damage to the unmined portion of the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex. Our report concludes that the Alberta Energy Regulator should not have been approved by the AER.


You can help. Make your voice heard.

Send a letter to Laurie Pushor, President and CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator and The Honourable Brian Jean, Alberta Minister of Energy and Minerals. Fens, like the McClelland Lake fen, are important in the fight against climate change.

Send an Email

McClelland Lake’s patterned fen. Photo by P. Meintzer


March 31, 2023  — AWA submits an advance copy of our report on McClelland/Suncor’s Operational Plan to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).

April 12, 2023 — AWA receives a letter from the AER regarding the submission of our McClelland Report. The letter states that this request will be processed through the AER’s reconsideration process.

April 17, 2023 — AWA releases a report to the public, published a press release for media, and officially launched our #DontMineMcClelland campaign.

April 17, 2023 – Bob Weber, with The Canadian Press, publishes a story about the issue.

April 17, 2023 — Robert Tuttle, with Bloomberg, publishes a story about the issue.

April 18, 2023 — AWA receives a letter from the AER regarding our request for a reconsideration of Suncor’s Operational Plan approval, outlining next steps for the reconsideration process.

April 27, 2023 — Drew Anderson, with The Narwhal, publishes a story about the issue.

April 28, 2023 — AWA set up a letter-writing form on our website for people to submit their concerns to the AER.

May 2, 2023 — AWA releases a short video explainer on YouTube about McClelland and the risks associated with Suncor’s Operational Plan.

May 8, 2023 — AWA delivers our submission to the AER regarding our Request for Reconsideration of Suncor’s Operational Plan.

May 31, 2023 — AWA receives Suncor Energy’s reply submission to the Alberta Energy Regulator.

June 9, 2023 — AWA sends in reply submission to the AER re: Request for Reconsideration of Suncor’s McClelland Lake Wetland Complex Operational Plan.

June 16, 2023 AWA receives copy of a letter sent by Suncor Energy to the AER regarding AWA’s reply submissions from June 9.

June 19, 2023 AWA receives a letter from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) regarding Suncor’s June 16 letter to the AER.

June 21, 2023 AWA sends a letter to the AER in response to Suncor’s letter to the AER from June 16.

June 26, 2023 — Suncor letter to AER, again requesting the dismissal of AWA’s June 9 reply submissions.

July 5, 2023 — AWA sends a news release to update media and public on the AER Reconsideration Process.

July 6, 2023 — AER Letter to AWA regarding AWA new information and Suncor reply extension.

July 11, 2023 — AWA Statement of Concern re: FHOSP and WBNP; sent to UNESCO.

July 27, 2023 — Received Suncor’s second reply submission to AWA’s new information.

July 28, 2023 — Nature Alberta conservation blog post published; Bob Weber article published (Globe and Mail, Global, etc.).

July 30, 2023 — Energi Media Article published by Markham Hislop.

Aug. 1, 2023 — Campaign update sent out to MLWC mailing list.

Aug. 8, 2023 — AWA News Release: Suncor admits its plan is insufficient to keep McClelland Lake protected from its planned mining activities.

Aug. 10, 2023 — The Orchard / Jeremy Appel article published.

Sept. 6 – 10, 2023 — AWA takes a trip to McClelland: Visit with Elder Barb F., flyover, camping with Borealis Paddling Club.

Oct. 16, 2023 — AWA & CPAWS NAB joint press release on the tailings implications of the Fort Hills mine expansion.

Nov. 1, 2023CBC News article published highlighting Indigenous elder concerns with Suncor’s plan to mine McClelland.

Nov. 1, 2023AWA news release highlighting Indigenous elder concerns with Suncor’s plan to mine McClelland.

Nov. 23, 2023 —  The AER decides that they will not reconsider their approval for Suncor’s Operational Plan

Nov. 24, 2023 —  AWA news release with initial thoughts on the AER’s decision to not reconsider their approval of Suncor’s plan.

To learn more about the McClelland wetland complex, visit our page on the area.

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