Corporate Responsibility


Our water management strategies focus on reducing fresh water use and protecting water sources. To reduce fresh water use, we apply technologies that maximize produced water recycling and saline water use for steam generation. To protect water sources across our operations, we follow industry leading operating practices and regulations for water use, including fresh water withdrawals, produced water disposal and the safe operation of disposal wells. Our water management programs also involve monitoring of water sources, storage and reporting to ensure no significant effects on water sources.

Water use management

Source water for our operations involves a combination of saline water, non-saline (fresh) water and recycled produced water. At Canadian Natural we balance our operational needs for water with the need to maintain the quality and quantity of this resource for future generations. To reduce fresh water use we:

  • Maintain high produced water recycle rates (90-99%) at Kirby South and Primrose/Wolf Lake (PAW) thermal in situ operations in Western Canada.
  • Make significant investments in technologies and innovative processes to enhance steam generation efficiency, increase water recycling and develop saline water sources. Fresh water use intensity has improved by 80% since 2008 at PAW. At Kirby, evaporators treat the produced water for re-use in the steam generation process.
  • Continue to advance technologies for the effective treatment of tailings water — produced water recycling in Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading is an ongoing focus, with over 80% of the water used being recycled.
  • Maintain a produced water recycle rate of more than 80% at our Pelican Lake polymerflood enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operation, where we use a combination of recycled produced water, saline and non-saline water. Significant investments have been made in infrastructure as we continue to expand the polymer flood while maintaining our high recycle rate.
  • Use water from a saline aquifer for waterflooding purposes at our Southeast Saskatchewan and Manitoba EOR operations. Other smaller thermal and waterflood projects use fresh groundwater.
  • Collaborate with industry and academic institutions to research water treatment methods and continue to address industry challenges.

Highlights of our water management performance are available in our 2017 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders.

Protecting water quality

As part of our commitment to managing water use in an efficient way, we also work to protect the environment and our water sources. Canadian Natural complies with existing regulations in relation to water treatment and discharge.

Water that is returned to the environment is tested to ensure that the required water quality objectives are met prior to release, complying with all provincial and federal regulations pertaining to the discharges of water and surface water runoff. These regulations are designed to protect receiving waters. Water released includes clean surface water pumped from pads, water treated as part of groundwater remediation systems and surface water runoff. Where practical, we reuse all water that can be recycled in our processes to reduce our footprint.

Regulations and industry operating practices are also adhered to for the safe operation of our disposal wells. Disposal wells are drilled and operated to contain fluids in the target formations, isolating materials from the environment.

In projects where groundwater is utilized, we monitor groundwater levels at source of production. Data collection and monitoring allows Canadian Natural to better manage and detect any deviations from standard groundwater quality or levels as well as further our understanding of any regional impacts our operations potentially have on shallow groundwater. For example, Horizon has a network of 227 groundwater wells that monitor water quality within four aquifers, and the AOSP mines have 158 groundwater wells monitoring five aquifers.

At our Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading operations, we limit fresh water withdrawals from the Athabasca River, and work with other oil sands operators to manage water withdrawals, ensuring the ecology of the Athabasca River is protected. On-site water storage ponds holds enough water for up to 30 days, allowing us to maintain production in the event of water withdrawal restrictions during the river's low flow periods.

All our offshore UK installations operate within our internal stretch targets of 20 mg/l for oil discharge to the sea, and produced water quality remains well within the regulatory compliance limit of 30 mg/l. In Africa, each installation operates below its ambitious produced water limit as defined in the Environmental Impact Assessments for each field. Our offshore operating practices limit environmental impact through the use of water-based, drilling muds whenever possible and the reduction of produced water volumes.

Hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technology that has been used safely in Western Canada under strong regulations and industry operating practices. As part of our commitment to protecting water resources, Canadian Natural has adopted the Hydraulic Fracturing Guiding Principles and Operating Practices developed with our industry association, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). These best practices include the public disclosure of water use and additives (and their concentration) used in shale gas hydraulic fracturing fluids. These practices are designed to improve water management, as well as water and fluids reporting for shale and tight gas development across Canada, complementing regulations and identifying sound wellbore construction as fundamental to protecting groundwater resources. To learn more about hydraulic fracturing watch this video.

Stakeholder engagement and industry collaboration

Water is an important resource, and protecting and using it responsibly is an industry-wide priority. Canadian oil and natural gas is produced under some of the highest standards in the world, including strict water use regulations.

Industry is effectively managing water and improving performance. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) latest Alberta Energy Industry Water Use Report issued February 2018 provides an overview of industry’s performance, total water allocation and use in 2016. According to the AER, energy development accounts for 10% of all non-saline (fresh) water in Alberta. The report concludes that the energy sector used only 22% of its water allocation, and that even with a 44% increase in hydrocarbon production, the amount of water used has remained unchanged since 2013. The report also shows that 86% of the water used by industry in situ operations is recycled, 80% of the water used in oil sands mining operations is recycled, and that only 11% (about 7 million m3) of the allocated volume for hydraulic fracturing was actually used in 2016.

Through CAPP, Canadian Natural engages with public policy makers. We work with regulators, government and in multi-stakeholder initiatives to advance environmental management frameworks and improve operating practices. We participate in a number of committees pertaining to water including: the Beaver River Watershed Alliance, the Milk River Watershed Committee, the Lower Souris River Watershed Committee, the North Athabasca Oil Sands Groundwater Management Framework and the South Athabasca Oil Sands Groundwater Management Framework. We communicate to the public the measures we take to conserve and protect fresh water resources through presentations, open houses, our annual Stewardship Report to Stakeholders and CAPP reports.

We invest in a variety of research projects and continually evaluate new technologies to improve environmental performance. As a member of COSIA, we participate in a “Best Practices Project” where learnings are shared among fellow members that can improve water management performance. For example, we are a joint industry partner in a project to build a Water Technology Development Centre (WTDC) that will test different pilot plants concurrently with access to live water streams.