All reclamation is conducted to return land to equivalent surrounding landscapes, whether that is boreal forest, native prairie or cultivation, providing for the establishment of a robust set of site features that will develop into a natural ecosystem with all its inherent functions. When using local and native vegetation, for example, the reclamation includes return of soils, surface water flows, vegetation and wildlife communities that integrate with the adjacent landscape.
Canadian Natural manages an industry leading reclamation program. We have received the greatest number of reclamation certificates of any of our peer companies for the past several years. We achieved this level of success through coordinated planning of field work and stable, consistent application of sound reclamation practices. Read our 2015 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders for results of our abandonment and reclamation programs.
We measure our performance against industry’s performance in key areas, as part of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) Responsible Canadian Energy (RCE) program. Available RCE benchmarking data from 2014 places Canadian Natural’s land management program as a top performer in terms of reclamation certificates issued and well abandonments. In 2014, we abandoned 31 per cent of all wells abandoned by industry, which represents the second highest number among all peer companies (545 wells), and received 50% of all reclamation certificates issued to peer companies (443 reclamation certificates). We also submitted 337 reclamation certificates, representing more than 760 hectares (ha) of land.
Canadian Natural adapts its reclamation approaches as appropriate for different ecological locations. We have specific requirements for each type of area we reclaim to manage soil and vegetation as well as landform.
At native prairie sites, we focus on minimizing site disturbance throughout the operating stages of the site and at the time of well abandonment. In this way we ensure natural grass species have the opportunity to reestablish on the location. In addition, we support native prairie reclamation work through our involvement with academic and government researchers to optimize reclamation practices on oil and natural gas sites.
In the forest zone we work to reestablish a forest ecosystem through effective soil contour and restoration techniques. The use of decompaction equipment and deep tilling equipment to establish microclimates is ideal for tree germination. This ‘leave it rough’ approach is a significant departure from earlier forestry reclamation practices which focused on the planting of grass species to obtain rapid vegetation establishment. However, these quick-to-grow grass species inhibited tree establishment on our well sites. Our forest zone reclamation practices today are much closer to forestry reclamation where we take advantage of natural material, such as coarse woody debris and rough contour, to aid in the establishment of natural systems.
Reclamation and reforestation work at Primrose and Wolf Lake (PAW) thermal in situ operations has been taking place since 2000. More than 400,000 tree and shrub seedlings have been planted along different sites to date. The PAW 2015 re-vegetation program consisted of the reforestation of 38 ha with almost 75,000 tree and shrub seedlings planted.
Important steps in our ongoing reclamation work at Horizon are reforestation and soil salvage programs. Since the beginning of the Horizon project in 2008, we have reclaimed 330 hectares of the total 5,500 hectares of land we have disturbed through our mining operations. We are also monitoring the progress of 120,000 spruce seedlings planted throughout these years. A soil management system is helping us improve accessibility to reclamation information and planning, by providing a combination of inter-related programs into a database that includes reclaimed areas, soils quality, soil disturbance, among others.
Research and Pilots
Canadian Natural understands the importance of continuously improving our environmental performance. We participate in ongoing research and technology programs to learn more about diverse eco-regions and how to best manage each area.
In 2014 and 2015, we invested in research to evaluate innovative alternatives that will accelerate reclamation timelines in native prairie ecosystems. We had high success planting native seedling plugs at a group of well sites being reclaimed in Southeast Alberta. A lightweight reusable panel system was designed to protect the seedlings from grazing wildlife while still allowing for normal grazing to continue on the rest of the site. In 2016, we will be expanding the application of this approach with the construction of 1,000 reusable vegetation panels and ordering 6,000 seedling plugs. We are further optimizing the revegetation efforts through seasonal watering and the application of native hay to the planted areas to optimize moisture retention on the sites.
At Horizon, reclamation research and monitoring takes place on an ongoing basis. Valuable research is taking place to investigate the ecological performance of our reclaimed areas and determine best practices to reclaim areas more efficiently. Canadian Natural has partnered with the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) to monitor the development of plant communities and the effects of reclamation on the local environment. We are conducting research on trembling aspen growth and establishment in different soil types at Horizon. The study is looking at the impacts of soil compaction, soil type, drought stress, best field site conditions for Aspen seedlings, long-term growth and survival potential. Findings from this study to date have shown emerging patterns in growth and provided critical insights into the effects of different cover soils, fertilization and spatial arrangements on other plant communities. The data collected from this reclamation research is helping us shape best practices for specific plant species and maximize further reclamation efforts. During 2016, we will be building upon that research and monitoring activity, as we seek to develop an effective soil mix for aspen growth.
We are also working on reclamation pilots to evaluate alternative solutions to landfilling waste, such as on-site enhanced bioremediation (use of micro-organisms to remove pollutants) and phytoremediation (use of plants to remove contaminants) of hydrocarbon affected soils. Read our Innovation that enhances Reclamation story for more details.
Canadian Natural participates in Canada’s Oilsands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and shares research results with peer companies. COSIA’s Land Environmental Priority Area (EPA) focuses on terrestrial and aquatic reclamation research in the oil sands region. Read more about our work with COSIA.
Ongoing vegetation research at reclaimed Horizon sites.
We are currently working on reclamation pilots to evaluate alternative solutions to landfilling waste, such as on-site enhanced bioremediation (use of micro-organism to remove pollutants) and phytoremediation (use of plants to remove contaminants) of hydrocarbon affected soils. Read our Innovation that enhances Reclamation story for more details.
Canadian Natural participates in Canada’s Oilsands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and shares research results with peer companies. COSIA’s Land Environmental Priority Area (EPA) focuses on terrestrial and aquatic reclamation research in the oil sands region.