The EMS employed by Canadian Natural includes specific criteria to ensure biodiversity is considered in all operations. Management assesses the environmental aspects of all operations to ensure that long-term reclamation requirements are accounted for and biodiversity planning is incorporated, beginning with site assessments at the time of acquisition or prior to construction, through to monitoring of reclamation to ensure that soil, vegetation and wildlife functions are returned to its natural habitat as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Prior to development, for example, our major projects require Environmental Impact Assessments and Pre-Disturbance Assessments to support our understanding of the potential project related impacts on the environment, including biodiversity, in order to mitigate potential impacts, develop monitoring programs and plan mitigation measures. Our reclamation efforts promote the re-establishment of native trees, plants and species that are crucial to restoring natural ecosystems after our operations eventually close.
Canadian Natural understands that reclamation is progressive and we take the necessary steps to ensure it is done right. Our reclamation strategies on forested sites, grasslands and management of other habitats, support wildlife protection such as caribou habitat across our operations. Where possible, sensitive landscapes such as wetlands and areas with important wildlife habitat are avoided. In keeping with the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP), we also follow its biodiversity framework to conserve sensitive land, habitats and wildlife. Read more about how we support wildlife through reclamation research.
At Canadian Natural, wildlife management is considered in all phases of our projects to promote a healthy coexistence between our operations and species that live in or utilize the areas where we operate. We work to reduce disturbance to wildlife and impacts on wildlife movement, to protect the habitats where we operate and to maintain the regional characteristics and biodiversity of each ecosystem.
We implement low-impact measures to protect wildlife at our sites, including controlled site access, minimized vegetation and soil removal, wildlife crossing structures above ground pipelines and effective reclamation. For example, at Horizon, bird deterrents, fencing and waste management systems have improved coexistence. Additionally, we create enhanced habitats outside our operational areas ensuring migration options are available. We train operations staff and contractors to work safely and effectively when near wildlife.
We work with stakeholders such as industry peers and Aboriginal communities to implement and share best practices and traditional knowledge regarding land use. At Wãpan Sãkahikan (Horizon Lake), we are establishing rat root as part of our commitment to Aboriginal communities. With members of the Fort McKay First Nation we harvested rat roots that are used for medicinal purpose. We also implemented strategies with First Nations partners to minimize wildlife interactions. By working with First Nations trappers to maintain their traditional trapping activities and share their traditional knowledge and experience in the region, we are able to further enhance our wildlife management practices on and around site.
Research and Monitoring
Canadian Natural invests in research and monitoring programs to gather data to develop informed decisions on improving our practices. We monitor the effectiveness of our Wildlife Management System through remote monitoring with cameras, wildlife collars, and participation in regional wildlife monitoring programs.
Canadian Natural is MULTISARS biggest supporter in Southern Alberta. MULTISARS is a collaborative effort between government, conservation groups, industry and landholders to conserve species at risk. Canadian Natural’s contribution is being directed towards working directly with landholders to develop detailed habitat conservation strategies, on-the-ground habitat enhancement and restoration, and information and education.
Biodiversity monitoring is an important component of effective conservation strategies during project development, and final reclamation and restoration work after our projects come to an end. At Horizon, we began biodiversity monitoring before project approval. Regular inspections and remote cameras ensure wildlife activity is monitored and wildlife is deterred from approaching our tailings pond.
Horizon has operated a leading edge bird deterrent program since the start of operations in 2009. We have continued to enhance our bird deterrent program by installing 8 floating deterrents, 13 Long Range Acoustic Devices and a new camera detection system to activate sound cannons. We also conduct daily monitoring. This continues to be an effective system to protect wildlife. In 2015, we extended our radar coverage to improve the deterrent activation time and monitor these changes to assess improvements in deterrent performance.
Understanding how our presence affects wildlife species is important so we can take steps to limit the impact we have on their activities. Highlights of our research and monitoring programs include:
- Wildlife movement studies - including moose, wolves, and caribou.
- Assessment of bird and wildlife colonization on reclaimed land.
- Plant community development and trembling aspen seedling establishment in different soil.
- Studies of vegetation performance including establishment of rare and medicinal plants.
Biodiversity monitoring is supported for the entire oil sands region through the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute that conducts monitoring on a 5 year cycle.
Caribou conservation and habitat restoration
Canadian Natural continues to work with industry and the governments of Alberta and British Columbia to develop strategies and plans for caribou recovery. Industry initiatives include project-specific mitigation measures to manage habitat for caribou and other wildlife, integrated access planning at relevant operating sites to reduce future footprint, research on accelerated reclamation techniques and innovative population enhancement measures.
We are working with provincial governments to include multiple, integrated and herd-specific conservation strategies in provincial plans (e.g., caribou population augmentation, predator control, primary prey control, and habitat restoration), in addition to minimizing habitat disturbance.
Canadian Natural has conducted project-specific caribou habitat restoration and is working with industry peers to coordinate restoration work on a regional scale through the Regional Industrial Caribou Committee (RICC), as part of our COSIA collaboration efforts. This on-the-ground work is focused on reducing predation on caribou by making legacy seismic lines less available for predator movement. During 2014 and 2015, Canadian Natural successfully treated 58 km of disturbed linear corridors. An assessment of our winter tree planting showed 80-90 per cent survival rate. In addition, during 2016 Canadian Natural is collaborating with other companies on a habitat restoration initiative that is targeting the restoration of over 200 km of legacy seismic lines. We are also a funding partner in a maternal penning population augmentation program led by First Nations in northeast British Columbia, aimed at reducing predation rates on newborn caribou calves. Read more about industry caribou habitat restoration efforts on the COSIA website.
Caribou using wildlife crossing at Canadian Natural facilities.