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 ensure the land that is used in our operations is returned to a healthy ecosystem once our activities are complete. Our land management practices minimize the impact of our projects on the land, reduce our operational footprint and progressively reclaim land across our operations. We also work with stakeholders to ensure their present and future needs are met.

We work to minimize land disturbance and reduce our operational footprint on the land through effective planning and operational efficiencies, by applying best practices and innovation. In our North America Exploration and Production (NA E&P) operations, such as our PAW and Kirby South thermal in situ operations, we reduce the overall number of drill sites required by designing compact and efficient multi-wells pads (with multiple wells on a single pad). To reduce the total land disturbed, we also re-use existing roads and clearings of former sites, avoiding additional vegetation and topsoil removal. Rather than waiting until all our production and operational activities are complete, disturbed land not being used is progressively reclaimed.

We also manage our environmental footprint at our oil sands mining operations through tailings management technologies that will accelerate the pace of reclamation and by developing the first oil sands compensation lake, Horizon Lake (Wãpan Sãkahikan).

Multi-well pad at Kirby South thermal in situ operations

Strategic approach to land use and reclamation

To progressively reclaim the land in the most cost-effective way, in our NA E&P operations we coordinate our efforts by strategically grouping wells and pipelines in the same area. This approach also includes the alignment of complementary programs, such as our well and pipeline abandonment programs with our facility decommissioning and wellsite reclamation programs. As a result of this area-based approach, our sites (facilities and wells) proceed to final reclamation more efficiently with better coordination of activities, including:

  • 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.

This approach has evolved into an industry leading environmental closure program. Canadian Natural has received the greatest number of reclamation certificates among our peer companies for the past several years. In Alberta, Canadian Natural received 777 reclamation certificates from the regulator, which represents 23% of the total reclamation certificates issued (3,370) in the province during 2016. Read our 2016 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders for more highlights of our abandonment and reclamation programs.

Our work is in accordance with applicable Provincial regulations for decommissioning and reclamation that is required at 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. All reclamation is conducted to return land to equivalent surrounding landscapes, whether that is boreal forest, native prairie or agricultural land. We adapt our reclamation approaches as appropriate for different ecological locations, based on specific requirements for each type of area to manage soil and vegetation as well as landform.

When using local and native vegetation, for example, the reclamation includes return of soils, surface water flows and vegetation that integrate with the adjacent landscape. At native prairie sites, we focus on minimizing site disturbance throughout the operating stages of the site and at the time of well abandonment. In this way, we ensure native grass species have the opportunity to reestablish on the location.

In the forest zone, we work to reestablish a forest ecosystem through effective soil contour and restoration techniques. Our forest zone reclamation practices today are much closer to forestry reclamation where we take advantage of natural material, such as coarse woody debris and rough contour, to aid in the establishment of natural systems.

Important steps in our ongoing reclamation and reforestation work are soil salvage programs. Our Horizon soil management system is helping us improve accessibility to reclamation information and planning, by providing a combination of inter-related programs into a database that includes reclaimed areas, soils quality, soil disturbance, among others. In 2016, we had 14.2 million bulk cubic meters (BCM) of salvaged soil for future reclamation.

At Primrose and Wolf Lake (PAW) thermal in situ operations, more than 500,000 tree and shrub seedlings have been planted along different sites since 2000. We have also been working on revegetation strategies at borrow and in-fill reclamation sites. The photo below shows an area that was cleared and constructed in 2005. The materials from the borrow were used to build this pad and portions of the road from other pads. The borrow area was successfully reclaimed in 2007 and reforested in 2008 with trees and shrub species as part of Canadian Natural’s commitment to doing it right.

Revegetation project at borrow and in-fill reclamation sites at PAW.

Reclamation research

We participate in ongoing research and technology programs to learn more about diverse eco-regions and how to best manage each area. For example, soil research is ongoing on improved methods of salvage to retain the valuable characteristics of soil nutrients and structures as well as seed and root stocks for revegetation. Surficial groundwater and surface water studies are in progress to better understand the effects of these water processes on long-term soil stability, erosion potential and nutrient cycling.

We support reclamation research through practical hands-on field trials and involvement with industry, academic and government researchers to share results and optimize reclamation practices on oil and natural gas sites, such as the Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC). Canadian Natural has been a strong proponent of risk-based remediation standards as part of an effective and timely reclamation program for well sites. During 2016, we worked with industry and regulators through PTAC to reduce excavation and disposal on native prairie, protect biodiversity and accelerate reclamation while meeting regulatory standards. Read our Innovation in reclamation section to learn more about our reclamation work and research projects.

Canadian Natural has been a Corporate Member of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association (CLRA) for 15 years. CLRA is a non-profit organization that encourages personal and corporate involvement where reclamation or rehabilitation of disturbed lands is planned or implemented. Its members meet annually for technical discussion, information exchange and personal interaction.