Dirty, dangerous, toxic, devastating, all words that have been used by critics to describe strip mining for oil sands. But what about necessary? Safe? And reclamation? Those are the words the oil companies would like to hear more often.
Smokestacks dot the landscape and glimpses of the mines from the road reveal the scarred land.
For those in the oil business like Syncrude, it's a give and take. They say strip mining isn't only the easiest way - its simply the best way to harvest much of the oil.
The Canadian Government understands the devastation the mining process inflicts - and has set this mandate for oil companies, what is destroyed must be repaired through reclamation.
Company spokesperson Cheryll Robb says Syncrude is committed to reclamation - and has been since the company began mining here in the 60's. So far they've restored 20 percent of the land they've mined. "Started refilling holes, that's the oil sand without oil we've been filling 11 years, started created the land forms in the north and headed south. There is no debate that Northern Alberta is beautiful. The nature is at the heart of the debate against strip mining. Critics say it destroys the land. But this land used to be part of a strip mine and the goal with reclamation is to return all strip mines back to this," said Robb.
Dr. Kevin Percy is an expert in forestry. He lives near the oil sands operations and keeps a close eye on the reclamation projects. "I can tell you that the growth of these trees are excellent, I monitor these trees in the forest around here and I can tell you the growth here is superior to the surrounding forest," said Percy.
This land is in the early stages of reclamation. It will take many years - but the water will be filled in, the hills reformed and vegetation planted.
There's no question - it is easier to destroy than to create. The mining in Alberta has an immediate impact - but the reclamation takes decades.
Here - it's starting to take hold. This pristine spot including the water and all the trees was once Syncrude mine. 25 years later - the company is 'almost' ready to return it to public use. "For me, working at Syncrude, I'm very proud to work for a company that wants to do the right thing, who know the world needs the resource," said Percey.
Dr. Percy thinks this reclamation will hold and the land will flourish once again, but only time, generations of it, will tell the full story of whether what is given back will ever replace what was taken away.