Land

Corporate Responsibility

Land

Canadian Natural develops every project with a vision and plan to proactively manage impact on the land. We are committed to returning all our worksites (processing facilities, well sites, pipelines, mines, roads, etc.) to a healthy ecosystem once our activities are complete — whether that is boreal forest, native prairie or farmed land. Avoidance planning and mitigation actions preserve natural habitat and species, and our reclamation programs help establish native vegetation to promote biodiversity, wildlife habitat and a range of land uses.

Across our operations, land management practices are designed to reduce disturbance and progressively reclaim land. At our thermal operations, for example, we have decreased the size of our multi-well pads, and re-use existing roads and clearings of former sites to the extent it is possible. This reduces the area of trees cleared, soil disturbed, and habitat affected, avoiding additional vegetation and topsoil removal.

We also incorporate innovation, best practices and lessons learned from research, industry collaboration and working with stakeholders. As an active member of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) we collaborate with our industry peers to find solutions to common challenges, such as optimization and reduction of our operational footprint; development of technology such as acoustic recording units (ARUs) and remote cameras to improve our understanding of wildlife diversity.

Multi-well pad at Kirby South thermal in situ operations

Industry leading liability reduction program

We have a proactive approach to responsibly managing of our footprint and environmental liabilities and obligations. Our environmental closure program considers all aspects of our operations so that we can advance reclamation as quickly as possible. This is a comprehensive program that includes area-based and progressive reclamation, end of mine life, decommissioning projects, waste management, as well as industry collaboration.

Closure plans are updated regularly to incorporate best practices, research results, and community and stakeholders input. Work is completed in accordance with applicable regulations for all sites as part of their liability closure. With a wide portfolio of projects and record numbers of reclamation projects, Canadian Natural is an industry leader for abandonment, decommissioning and reclamation activities in Canada and offshore UK. Read our 2020 sustainability report for more highlights of our abandonment and reclamation programs.

Reclamation

Canadian Natural understands that reclamation is progressive and we take the necessary steps to ensure it is done right. We adapt our reclamation approaches to different ecosystems accordingly, based on specific requirements for each type of area, to manage soil, vegetation and landform.

For example, for local and native vegetation reclamation we focus on minimizing site disturbance. To re-establish forest, we apply soil contouring and restoration techniques. Our forest zone reclamation practices today are much closer to forestry reclamation, taking advantage of natural material, such as coarse woody debris and rough contouring, to aid in the establishment of natural systems. Learn more in our Innovation in Reclamation section.

Area-based reclamation

We continue to reduce our land footprint in our conventional and thermal operations by geographically grouping well and pipeline abandonments, facility decommissioning and reclamation activities. This industry leading and proactive approach drives innovation and accelerates reclamation timelines. It allows us to progressively reclaim large contiguous areas of land more efficiently and cost-effectively.

We have been advancing an integrated, area-based approach since our first pilot in 2013. In 2018, the AER expanded the program across the province, providing operators with flexibility in using best practices. In 2019, this program evolved into a practical regulatory approach to closure of inactive sites.

Our area-based program includes:

  • remediation (the removal of old equipment and soil clean-up),
  • abandonment and discontinuation (suspension and capping of wells and pipelines so that they are left in a safe and environmentally sound manner), and
  • reclamation (returning the sites to forests, agriculture, wetlands, or recreational and municipal land).

Oil Sands Reclamation

At our oil sands mining and upgrading operations, progressive reclamation activities are advancing as we work together with communities and industry to monitor and improve practices. We have planted more than 3.4 million trees in the oil sands mining region.

Important steps in our ongoing reclamation and reforestation work include soil salvage and placement programs. We also manage our environmental footprint through tailings management technologies that accelerate the pace of reclamation. Regulations in place to ensure oil sands operators are meeting their progressive reclamation milestones include the Mine Financial Security Program in the province of Alberta, which evaluates each mine based on its economic potential and reclamation performance to manage financial risks, to which companies pay security deposits.

Reclamation research

We support and participate in reclamation research through practical hands-on field trials and collaborations with industry, academia and government to optimize reclamation practices on oil and natural gas sites. Through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC), for example, we focus on improving wetland reclamation, vegetation diversity on forested and grassland sites, outcome-based remediation criteria, and well abandonment techniques.

Canadian Natural employees have been involved in PTAC’s Remediation and Reclamation Research Committee (RRRC) for more than a decade. The RRRC members of the Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund (AUPRF) are driving sustainable and cost-efficient management of our environmental footprint through collaboration between hundreds of research and technology providers, oil and gas producers, academia, government organizations, regulators, and investors. Through the AUPRF program, PTAC has launched over 400 environmental projects in the areas of remediation and reclamation, air quality, water, biodiversity and well-abandonment.

For more than 15 years, we have also been a Corporate Member of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association (CLRA), a non-profit organization that encourages personal and corporate involvement where reclamation or rehabilitation of disturbed lands is planned or implemented.

Read our Innovation in Reclamation for more about our reclamation and research projects.

Sensitive landscapes - Preserving ecological integrity

The Great Sand Hills, located in southwestern Saskatchewan, covers an area of 1,900 square kilometres of desert-like sand dunes as well as intact native grassland. Canadian Natural is one of the largest oil and natural gas producers in the area, and we work closely with stakeholders and regulatory bodies to conserve the characteristics and unique features of this region. An environmental management program ensures the integrity of this area, setting out guidelines for development on environmentally-sensitive land, including the use of minimal disturbance techniques, quantitative vegetation surveys, weed control, wildlife management and monitoring.

Canadian Natural also operates in the Manitou Sand Hills in Saskatchewan, a smaller region than the Great Sands Hills, but with similar ecological values. We are part of the advisory committee with stakeholders, industry, local rural municipalities and Crown land lessees, Saskatchewan’s Ministries of Agriculture and Environment and Tourism Saskatchewan, and meet annually to preserve land in its natural state and discuss land use plan, including development guidelines, ecological standards, biodiversity areas and access to the public.

Canadian Natural’s well pad in the Great Sand Hills.