Biodiversity

Corporate Responsibility

Biodiversity

We work to protect the habitats where we operate, maintain the regional characteristics and biodiversity of each ecosystem, and reduce disturbance to wildlife and impacts on wildlife movement. Our Environmental Management System includes specific criteria to ensure biodiversity is considered in all operations as part our land management practices. We assess the environmental aspects of all operations to ensure that we manage our impact, that long-term reclamation requirements are accounted for and biodiversity planning is incorporated. These assessments are incorporated in to our mitigation and monitoring programs.

To preserve biodiversity and promote natural habitats, we also collaborate with industry and other stakeholders. We conduct research into all aspects of reclamation with the intent to return biodiversity to all areas, and we participate in wildlife monitoring programs. For example, revegetation studies help us improve species richness and diversity and establish the foundation to support wildlife habitats. Results of these studies are incorporated into our biodiversity and wildlife management strategies.

Wildlife management

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 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. We have programs to minimize habituation of local wildlife at our operations, such as waste management systems at our thermal and oil sands operations. 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.

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 with additional floating deterrents, long range acoustic devices, and radar coverage to improve the deterrent activation time. We also conduct daily monitoring and continuously assess improvements in deterrent performance.

Another aspect of wildlife management is to implement and share best practices and traditional knowledge regarding land use with industry peers and Indigenous communities to minimize wildlife interactions. By working with First Nations trappers to maintain their trapping activities and share their traditional knowledge and experience in the oil sands region, we are able to further enhance our wildlife management practices on and around site.

Caribou conservation and habitat restoration

Caribou management is a concern for all resource industries in northern Alberta and British Columbia. Caribou is a species at risk, and Canadian Natural actively supports the need for coordinated caribou management planning. We continue to work with industry and provincial governments to develop strategies and plans for caribou recovery.

Canadian Natural is supporting caribou research and collaborative recovery planning and actions through its membership in the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration (RICC) in the Athabasca oil sands and the Foothills Landscape Management Forum. 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.

RICC is coordinating regional caribou research and on-the-ground caribou habitat restoration, focused primarily on linear corridors such as legacy seismic lines. Restoring linear corridors involves activities such as line blocking, mounding and tree planting to reduce predator movement and re-establish forest cover. Through the RICC, Canadian Natural has been collaborating with other companies on a habitat restoration initiative that is targeting the restoration of over 200 km of seismic lines within the Cold Lake Caribou Range. Canadian Natural has also undertaken restoration of approximately 60 km of seismic lines on its oil sands leases.

We are also a funding partner in the caribou maternal penning (population augmentation) program led by the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations in northeast British Columbia, aimed at reducing predation rates on newborn caribou calves. Read more about industry caribou habitat restoration efforts on COSIA's website.

We are working with provincial governments to include multiple integrated herd-specific conservation strategies in provincial plans, including caribou population augmentation (penning and captive breeding), primary prey control, habitat re-establishment and enhanced reclamation, in addition to minimizing habitat disturbance.

Left: Caribou using wildlife crossing at Canadian Natural facilities. Right: planted black spruce seedlings growing on treated seismic line at Kirby.

Research and Monitoring

Canadian Natural invests in research and monitoring programs to gather data to develop informed decisions on improving our practices. Biodiversity and wildlife 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. Through regular inspections, remote cameras and wildlife collars we monitor the effectiveness of our Wildlife Management System to ensure wildlife is deterred from approaching our tailings pond. We also participate in regional wildlife activity monitoring programs. Biodiversity monitoring is supported for the entire oil sands region through the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) that conducts monitoring on a 5 year cycle.

Understanding how our presence affects wildlife species is important so we can take steps to limit the impact we have on their activities. Independent studies have helped us improve our mitigation strategies to manage the impact that our mining and thermal operations have on wildlife. They have also shown that local wildlife can successfully thrive close to our facilities.

We also invest in several research and monitoring programs to improve land reclamation practices and minimize habituation of local wildlife at our operations. Our reclamation work and research supports the biodiversity and wildlife of each region by promoting the re-establishment of soil, vegetation and species that are crucial to restoring natural ecosystems. Where possible, sensitive landscapes such as wetlands and areas with important wildlife habitat are avoided. Our reclamation strategies on forested sites, grasslands and management of other habitats, support wildlife protection such as caribou habitat across our operations. For more information visit our Reclamation page.

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 types.
  • Studies of vegetation performance including establishment of rare and medicinal plants. 

For example, at our oil sands mining operations, an ongoing early successional wildlife monitoring program is helping us assess to what extent wildlife is returning to and re-establishing on reclaimed habitats. Results thus far have shown a return of small mammals, amphibians, songbirds and bats. This program was incorporated into similar initiatives being funded by industry through COSIA, allowing for monitoring of wildlife on a regional scale. Results of these studies are incorporated into our wildlife management and reclamation programs to develop best practices in the years ahead.

Photos from our wildlife monitoring programs at Horizon. Left: Killdeer eggs. Middle: baby Canadian toad. Right: horned lark.