Canadian Natural started developing the first compensation lake of its kind in the Athabasca oil sands region in 2008. Horizon Lake, also known by its Cree name Wãpan Sãkahikan, is an 80-hectare lake developed in close consultation with local people to incorporate traditional Aboriginal knowledge into its design.
Arctic Grayling Habitat Enhancement at Horizon Lake
Horizon Lake is now a self-sustaining ecosystem that has seen native fish species repopulate and thrive. Monitoring data shows that the lake now supports twice the fisheries habitat that will be lost during the life of the mining operation. Our ongoing research is improving the ecological value of the Lake through habitat enhancement for arctic grayling, which is considered a “species of special concern” by the Alberta’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee, which means it may soon be threatened with extinction without human intervention.
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.
We are currently funding a five-year research program with the University of Alberta and Mitacs Converge, to help establish guidelines for sustainable compensation lakes. This first-of-its-kind 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. The University research team will use hydroacoustics, a technique that employs sound waves to detect the presence of fish in a defined volume of water, as well as environmental DNA, an emerging technique that uses traces of DNA in water samples to identify and monitor freshwater species. It’s a sophisticated approach that will allow the team to examine the whole ecosystem of the lake and learn how it behaves without causing stress to the fish since they don’t have to be handled, while attempting an inventory of the whole lake.