Corporate Responsibility


Water is an important resource, and protecting and using it responsibly is an industry-wide priority. We follow comprehensive government regulations and industry operating practices to ensure protection of the environment and public safety during water sourcing, treatment and disposal.

Canadian oil and natural gas is produced under some of the highest standards in the world, including strict water use regulations. Industry is committed to working with government, regulators and communities to continue to improve operating practices. For example, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) latest Water Use Report states that the energy sector used 22% of its water allocation in 2016, and that even with a 44% increase in hydrocarbon production, the amount of water used has remained unchanged since 2013.

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. It is important that we continue to find ways to increase water use efficiency across all our business units.

Water use management

The foundation of our water management strategy is to minimize our impact on water resources by increasing recycle and storage, using saline (non-potable) water where possible, and applying technology to conserve and reduce fresh water use. Source water for our operations involves a combination of saline water, non-saline (fresh) water and recycled produced water. To reduce fresh water use we:

  • maintain high produced water recycle rates (90-99%) throughout our major thermal in situ and Horizon operations in Western Canada.
  • make significant investments to enhance steam generation efficiency and develop saline water sources. Fresh water use intensity has decreased by 75% since 2008 at Primrose/Wolf Lake (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 – increased produced water recycling rate by 10% at Horizon from 2015.
  • collaborate with industry and academic institutions to research water treatment methods and continue to address industry challenges.

Total produced water recycled has increased by 39% since 2013 at our major thermal (Kirby South and Primrose/Wolf Lake) and Pelican Lake polymerflood operations.

Pelican Lake polymerflood enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operation uses a combination of recycled produced water, saline and non-saline water. We maintain a produced water recycle rate of more than 80%, and significant investments have been made in infrastructure as we continue to expand the polymer flood while maintaining our high recycle rate. At our Southeast Saskatchewan and Manitoba EOR operations, we use water from a saline aquifer for waterflooding purposes, and other smaller thermal and waterflood projects use fresh groundwater.

At Horizon we limit fresh water withdrawals from the Athabasca River. In 2016, we used 23% of our annual allocation. We also work with other oil sands operators to manage water withdrawals, ensuring the ecology of the Athabasca River is protected. Horizon features an on-site water storage pond that holds enough water for up to 30 days and allows us to maintain production in the event of water withdrawal restrictions during the river's low flow periods.

Highlights of our water management performance are available in our 2016 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 both locally (at source of production) and regionally. 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. We continue to work with stakeholders to improve our water tracking and reporting systems across our operating areas.

All our 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. For more information on our marine environment protection read our 2016 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders.

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), which apply nationally. These best practices include the public disclosure through regulatory reporting of water use and additives — and their concentration — used in shale gas hydraulic fracturing fluids. They are designed to improve water management, as well as water and fluids reporting for shale and tight gas development across Canada. The practices complement regulations and identify sound wellbore construction as fundamental to protecting groundwater resources and responsible oil and natural gas development. To learn more about hydraulic fracturing watch this video.

Stakeholder engagement and industry collaboration

Canadian Natural, through CAPP, engages with public policy makers. We work with regulators, government and in multi-stakeholder initiatives to advance environmental management frameworks, implement the right programs to optimize water use and ensure there are no significant effects from our operations on water sources. 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, including those with a focus on water-related issues. 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 here that will test different pilot plants concurrently with access to live water streams.