Doing it Right - Innovation in Reclamation and Decommissioning

Corporate Responsibility

Doing it Right - Innovation in Reclamation and Decommissioning

As part of our commitment to responsible operations, we work to reduce and manage our impact on the land, developing every project with a vision and plan to return all work sites to a healthy ecosystem. Working closely with landowners and land managers, we focus on continuous improvement and innovation to achieve increasing efficiencies in our reclamation work. 

Native Prairie Reclamation Research

Native prairie reclamation includes the re-establishment of soils and vegetation that complement the surrounding landscape. We are pursuing alternative re-vegetation strategies by transplanting native grass species to our reclamation sites. We use hay because it acts as a natural seed source and retains moisture, accelerating the pace of reclamation. We also use lightweight panels to minimize cattle grazing and protect the native grass seedlings, while still allowing for regular wildlife grazing on the rest of the site. The vegetation panels, made from salvaged tubing, have been very successful on well sites being reclaimed in southeast Alberta. We constructed over 1,000 panels and expanded their use to include access roads. 

Techniques like this are reducing re-vegetation timelines on grasslands from three to five years to two to four years, while also protecting the diversity of natural species on reclaimed sites.

Vegetation panels and crimped straw are used to minimize grazing in native grasslands, contributing to an increased pace in reclamation of native prairie areas.

Bio-Remediation for Soil Treatment

Canadian Natural uses an enhanced bio-treatment process that employs purified bacteria to treat hydrocarbon affected soil without excavation (in situ) or following excavation (ex situ). Micro-organism soil remediation provides an environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution by avoiding excavation and trucking materials to a landfill. The treated soil does not need further soil aeration and can be used for backfill. Enhanced bio-remediation has been applied at two remote locations within the Nipisi light oil waterflood field since 2015. 

Watercourse Crossing Remediation

Another example of our reclamation work is the Roadway Watercourse Crossings Remediation Directive in Alberta.To manage our capital more proactively and improve fish populations, we have developed a road inventory, stream crossing assessments processes and remedial work. Working together with the Alberta government and regulator, we have completed a dataset to prioritize remediation of threatened fish habitat. The crossings with the greatest priority are those with the highest value habitat for fish. By the end of 2019, we had inspected more than 13,000 water crossing areas to identify crossings that require replacement or removal to re-connect fish habitat. 

A remediated crossing that allows fish to pass easily under the bridge.

Advancing Understanding of Reclamation in the Oil Sands

At our Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading operations, valuable research and monitoring are conducted on a regular basis to investigate the ecological performance of our reclaimed areas and improve reforestation. This research data is helping us develop best practices to promote the re-establishment of native forest and plant communities. 

We have planted more than 2 million trees, and continue to work to re-establish 1,300 hectares of continuous forest at Horizon. By the end of 2019, we had progressively reclaimed 1,629 hectares in the Oil Sands region. 

Mrs. T’s Lake, an Albian compensation lake, was named after Elder Mary Tourangeau, who has spent much of her life in the area trapping and teaching her family.

Research Collaboration

Research not only enhances our own reclamation efforts, but also those of the industry as a whole. Industry collaboration allows companies to study the successes and challenges of their peers, share the best ideas and approaches, and continuously improve upon them. Many of these projects take place in collaboration with other members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC), helping all operators advance reclamation techniques. Some of the projects led by Canadian Natural are: 

  • The Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative (OSVC) is a collaborative effort to harvest and bank native boreal forest seeds for use in revegetation and research. Watch this video.  
  • The Genomics Enhanced Reclamation Index (GERI) Stockpile project is helping us understand how soils may change while they are stockpiled. It helps determine the best approaches to manage soil during reclamation activities for both mining and in situ oil sands operations. 
  • Developing an effective soil placement mix or ‘recipe’, using a combination of salvaged soil placed on reclaimed sites.

Working together effectively allows each company to study the successes and challenges of its peers, opening up the industry to the best ideas and approaches, and continuously improving upon them.

Left: OSVC research - Alnus fruit. Right: Canadian Natural site visited by COSIA 2019 Fall Tour participants, where vegetation growth takes place along a seismic line that was treated with excavator mounding and tree planting almost eight years earlier.