Land

Corporate Responsibility

Land

Land use planning is an integral part of our operations.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 (wells, pipelines, mines, roads, etc.) to a healthy ecosystem once our activities are complete — whether that is boreal forest, native prairie or farmed land.

Across our operations, land management practices are designed to reduce disturbance and progressively reclaim land. To do this, we incorporate innovation, best practices and lessons learned from research and industry collaboration. We also work with stakeholders to ensure their present and future needs are met. For example, to minimize landscape impacts in our thermal in situ operations, we use compact and efficient multi-well pads (reducing the drill sites required), and re-use existing roads and clearings of former sites, avoiding additional vegetation and topsoil removal. Our reclamation strategies also support biodiversity and wildlife protection.

Multi-well pad at Kirby South thermal in situ operations

Industry leading liability reduction program

We have a proactive approach to environmental obligations allowing for responsible management 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 and decommissioning projects, waste management, as well as industry collaboration.

With a wide portfolio of projects and record numbers of projects, Canadian Natural is an industry leader for abandonment, decommissioning and reclamation activities in Canada and offshore UK. Since 2014, we have more than doubled our annual hectares of land reclaimed across our operations. We have received the greatest number of reclamation certificates from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) for the past several years, with 994 certificates received in 2018, which represent 18% of the total certificates issued in the province. Read our 2018 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders for more highlights of our abandonment and reclamation programs.

Closure plans are updated regularly to incorporate best practices and research results, and community representatives and stakeholders are involved in our planning. Work is completed in accordance with applicable regulations for all sites as part of their liability closure.

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. Read 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, progressively reclaiming 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).

Here is an example of waterjet technology used at Canadian Natural sites for area-based closure (including well abandonment and reclamation). For more examples of our area-based reclamation and decommissioning work, refer to the Innovation in Reclamation section.

Oil Sands Reclamation

Comprehensive land use planning is an essential part of our operations that considers the end of mine life so that we can manage environmental closure programs and obligations, and apply progressive reclamation activities. At our oil sands mining operations, progressive reclamation activities are advancing as we work together with communities and industry to monitor and improve practices. Read about our one millionth reclamation tree planted at Horizon.

At PAW thermal in situ operations, more than 600,000 tree and shrub seedlings have been planted along different sites since 2000. In 2018, we received the first in situ reclamation certificate – for the industry and for the Company. We worked with the AER to establish a process for certifying lands held for in situ oil extraction.

Important steps in our ongoing reclamation and reforestation work include soil salvage and placement programs. Our reclamation teams are integrating our oil sands mining operations’ tracking systems and databases. This integration work will improve reclamation planning through better access to information such as reclaimed areas, soil quality and soil disturbance. In 2018, we had more than 2 million bulk cubic meters (BCM) of salvaged soil at Horizon, and over 1 million BCM at the AOSP sites for use in reclamation.

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 Mining Financial Security Program (MFSP) in the province of Alberta, which evaluates each mine based on its economic potential and reclamation performance to manage financial risks.

Reclamation research

We support and participate in reclamation research through practical hands-on field trials and involvement with industry, academia and government to share results and 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) we focus on wetland reclamation, increasing vegetation diversity on forested and grassland sites, outcome-based remediation criteria, and improving well abandonment techniques. Read our Innovation in Reclamation section for more about our reclamation and research projects.

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.