Biodiversity

Corporate Responsibility

Biodiversity

Canadian Natural recognizes the importance of biodiversity to maintain species and ecosystems and ecological processes. Our Environmental Management System provides the assurance that processes are in place to assess biodiversity, implement mitigation measures and return the land to a diverse ecosystem, through the following practices:

  • Incorporating biodiversity values into our development plans;
  • Mitigating project effects on biodiversity through avoidance and minimization of effects;
  • Reclaiming and restoring natural environments wherever possible;
  • Identifying key ecosystems, wildlife habitat and species in all aspects of project activities; and
  • Working with governments, Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders

Canadian Natural’s planning and development processes consider the conservation of animals, plants and other organisms that provide ecological values and preserve ecological opportunities into the future. This process includes values held by Indigenous People who have an intimate cultural relationship with nature.

We assess our impact and incorporate long-term biodiversity and reclamation planning into our programs to maintain regional characteristics and reduce impacts on wildlife. Monitoring of aquatic ecosystems, terrestrial biodiversity, wildlife species of concern and reclamation provide us with data to improve mitigation activities. Research and monitoring programs to improve land reclamation practices support biodiversity and wildlife through the re-establishment of important soil functions and vegetation species that are crucial to restoring species (e.g. caribou) and natural ecosystems (such as wetlands) across our operating areas. For more information visit our Reclamation section.

To preserve biodiversity and promote natural habitats, we also work with industry, governments and communities to develop and implement management strategies. Read our program highlights in our 2020 sustainability report.

Wildlife

At Canadian Natural, wildlife management is considered in all phases of our projects to promote a healthy co-existence between our operations and wildlife species that live in or utilize the areas where we operate. Wildlife-focused programs, such as rigorous onsite waste management, wildlife and bear training, and bird deterrents, help minimize local wildlife effects from our operations. We implement low-impact measures to protect wildlife at our sites, including controlled site access, minimized vegetation and soil removal, wildlife crossing structures for above ground pipelines and effective reclamation. Additionally, we create enhanced habitats such as restoration of caribou range outside our operational areas ensuring movement options are available.

At our oil sands mining facilities, we have leading edge bird deterrent programs, conduct daily monitoring and continuously assess improvements in deterrent performance. To enhance bird protection we’ve increased sound coverage with the use of floating barges and longer range acoustic devices. We have added radar coverage effectively time the activation of deterrents with the actual approach of birds.

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

For example, Fort McKay Elders taught reclamation professionals at Albian that beavers are a cultural keystone species considered “builders of the land”, and need to be encouraged to return to reclaimed areas in order to help rebuild the land post mining. This added a game-changing component to our reclamation planning that continues today. Beaver habitat design is incorporated at the reclamation planning stages by geotechnically designing watercourses and planting willow and popular. By working together, Indigenous community members increase their understanding of our current processes and Canadian Natural can include environmental, social and spiritual components in reclamation practices.

New long range radar capable of detecting whooping crane migration, detecting presence and movement in real-time.

Boreal woodland caribou conservation and habitat restoration

Boreal woodland caribou are found across Canada, and are listed federally as Threatened under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). These populations are declining due to many interconnected factors, including natural and human-caused landscape changes that contribute to increased predation of caribou.

Canadian Natural supports coordinated work with industry, provincial and federal governments, Indigenous communities and other resource sectors to develop strategies for caribou research, management and recovery through a balanced, long-term approach. We participate in caribou research and collaborative projects through Government of Alberta-led caribou range planning, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Canada’s Oil Sand Innovation Alliance (COSIA), the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration (RICC), the Foothills Landscape Management Forum and the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC). We are committed to being part of the solution, as our operations cross many caribou ranges, to ensure a shared working landscape that allows caribou to co-exist with responsible development of resources. Approximately 25% of Canadian Natural’s mineral land base in Canada is located within federally defined woodland caribou ranges.

Canadian Natural is active in numerous woodland caribou recovery efforts, including these key projects:

  • Habitat Restoration. RICC members restored more than 1,300 km of legacy seismic lines across northeastern Alberta. Fragmented areas, forest clearings and linear corridors (such as legacy seismic lines) create habitat for deer and moose, which in turn supports presence of predators like wolves. Read more about industry caribou habitat restoration efforts on the COSIA website.
  • Canadian Natural completed restoration and revegetation of over 200 km of legacy seismic lines in northeast Alberta with the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta (FRIAA) and Alberta Environment and Park, which included planting of over 73,100 trees. This work is being used as a template for future seismic restoration projects that will be developed in association with area-based closure projects.
  • Penning programs. Canadian Natural has been supporting the Klinse-Za Caribou Maternal Penning, led by the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations in northeast British Columbia. This project helps protect caribou calves and cows from predators until newborns are better equipped to protect themselves, helping reduce calf predation and recover populations. Results show that calf survival beyond one year is 46% higher within the pen than for members of the herd in the wild. We are also working with the Alberta government and Indigenous stakeholders on design and implementation of the proposed Little Smoky Rearing Facility, located ~350 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
  • Research. Initiatives described above, and others, are the result of extensive research. Research is underway to improve strategies and develop new approaches to achieve self-sustaining woodland caribou populations.
Before and after photos from a multi-year linear restoration project aimed at restoring habitat on 200 kilometres of legacy seismic lines.

Research and Monitoring

Biodiversity and wildlife monitoring is an important component of effective conservation strategies both during development and reclamation project phases. Regular monitoring and research of wildlife, biodiversity and species at risk are incorporated into our management and mitigation programs to develop science-based best practices. For example, wildlife responses to above-ground pipelines at our thermal in situ oil sands facilities are used to inform the need for and locations of pipeline crossing opportunities, as well as the future design of new pipelines.

Understanding how our presence affects wildlife species is important so we can take steps to limit the impact we have on their activities. Biodiversity monitoring takes place using regular inspections, remote cameras and wildlife collars. Independent studies have helped us improve our mitigation strategies at our mining and thermal operations, and have also shown that local wildlife can successfully thrive close to our facilities. We also participate in regional biodiversity monitoring programs.

Research and monitoring programs to improve land reclamation practices support 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; and
  • Studies of vegetation performance including establishment of rare and medicinal plants. 

In the Athabasca Oil Sands Region for example, an Early Successional Wildlife Dynamics Program is showing that species typically found in mature boreal forests are returning to and re-establishing on older reclaimed sites (greater than 20 years), including insects, small mammals, amphibians and birds. Watch this video showing Canadian Natural’s compensation lakes at Albian, and how we are working with other operators to monitor and restore habitats in the oil sands.

Research is underway on Canadian toad, a species of conservation concern and commonly found in the oil sands region, to gain better understanding of their habitat and movement patterns, and assess relocation work. Within our wildlife mitigation plans, we continually assess sites to ensure that toads (or other amphibians) are re-located to areas away from our mine activities.

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

Read more highlights of our biodiversity and management programs in our 2020 sustainability report.