Stakeholder engagement supports sustainable development at Horizon Lake

Corporate Responsibility

Stakeholder engagement supports sustainable development at Horizon Lake

Our work with Indigenous stakeholders at Horizon Lake (also known as Wãpan Sãkahikan in Cree) illustrates Canadian Natural’s ongoing commitment to responsible operations and building long-term relationships based on mutual respect and open dialogue.

Canadian Natural started developing the first compensation lake of its kind in the Athabasca oil sands region in 2008. Wãpan Sãkahikan is an 80-hectare lake developed in close consultation with local people to incorporate traditional Indigenous knowledge into its design.

When the Horizon Oil Sands operation was established, long term co-operation agreements were signed between Canadian Natural and Indigenous communities in order to foster a relationship that supports the social, cultural, economic and environmental goals of the stakeholders. Our company committed to working with those groups to provide opportunities for stakeholders to continue practicing their traditional ways of life. One of the focus areas to meet these commitments was the lands around Horizon Lake. We work with stakeholders, including industry peers and Indigenous communities to implement and share best practices and traditional knowledge. For example, with members of the Fort McKay First Nation we have established and harvested rat roots, which are used for medicinal purpose.

Groups of Indigenous stakeholders have been visiting the lake for the past several years to receive updates on its development and to stay informed on issues related to the Horizon plant, including tailings management and biodiversity. A stakeholder pavilion structure was completed alongside the lake, serving as a new and improved meeting place for stakeholders and staff. The first Indigenous stakeholder visit to the pavilion took place on September 9, 2014 when Fort McKay First Nation members were invited to the lake for the unveiling of a memorial in honour of two community members who passed away in recent years.

“Our consultations with Indigenous stakeholders have covered everything from the design of the lake to the fish population and vegetation, including those of traditional importance — it was only fitting that they also provided key input on the new gathering place structure,” says Bob Dunn, District Landman, Horizon.

Horizon Lake represents a unique alternative to addressing environmental impacts to fish habitat and Canadian Natural is sharing learnings and data with stakeholders and other operators to assist their compensation of lost fish habitat. To date, Canadian Natural has invested $20 million to create and develop Horizon Lake. Research is ongoing to increase our knowledge of the lake, enhance fish monitoring techniques and further improve habitat for arctic grayling, considered a “species of special concern” by the Alberta’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee.

We are also funding a five-year research program with the University of Alberta and Mitacs Converge, to help establish guidelines for sustainable compensation lakes. This project will deploy leading-edge technology and the latest methods in ecosystem development to monitor and assess fish habitat health, and determine best practices moving forward.

Left: A view from behind the pavilion during a recent stakeholder gathering with Horizon Lake in the background. Right: Aerial picture of the new pavilion and Horizon Lake.