Innovation in reclamation

Corporate Responsibility

Innovation in reclamation

As part of our commitment to responsible operations, we work to reduce and manage our impact on the land. Each project phase — from design and operation, to final reclamation — includes detailed planning to ensure careful consideration is given to the resulting footprint. Every effort is made to return the landscape to a healthy ecosystem upon completion of the project — whether that is boreal forest, native prairie or farmed land. Continuous improvement and innovation leads to increasingly efficient reclamation work.

Native prairie reclamation research

Native prairie reclamation includes the re-establishment of soils and vegetation that complements the adjacent landscape. Our reclamation approach fosters innovation in our land management practices, such as the construction of lightweight reusable panels designed to protect the native grass seedlings while still allowing for normal wildlife grazing on the rest of the site. We had high success with this project at a group of well sites being reclaimed in Southeast Alberta. We constructed over 1,000 vegetation panels and recently expanded their application to include access roads.

In 2016, we expanded on earlier research to evaluate other innovative alternatives that accelerate reclamation timelines in native prairie ecosystems. We field tested the use of a vegetation core tool to collect and transplant native grass species on our reclamation sites. We also worked closely with land owners and land managers to harvest native grass, which was used to optimize moisture retention on the sites. Additionally, we worked with a specialized equipment provider to reclaim low-disturbance trails in the native grasslands. The selective application of topsoil, novel use of vegetation panels, seeding and native straw crimping allow these sites to be reclaimed more effectively and in a much shorter timeline.

Left: native grasslands trial with crimped straw and vegetation panels. Right: vegetation crew working on well center with native coring tool.

Bio-remediation for soil treatment

Canadian Natural is using a microorganism treatment process that employs purified bacteria capable of mineralizing petroleum hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water. This enhanced bio-treatment process allows for treatment of hydrocarbon affected soil without excavation (in situ) or following excavation (ex situ), often with only one application, removing the need for further soil aeration.

Microorganism soil remediation provides an environmentally friendly solution by avoiding landfill use and transportation associated with landfill disposal, and the treated soil can be used for backfill. The potential to extend on site bio-treatment to other operations builds in considerable value for Canadian Natural and the environment. Enhanced bio-remediation was initiated at two remote locations within the Nipisi light oil waterflood field in 2015, and we are monitoring the success of the pilot sites in 2017.

Peat land research

Canadian Natural is also conducting research on peat land reclamation with the goal of improving reclamation of sites in this ecosystem. Muskeg can be difficult to restore to its original condition. These trials will allow us to measure the effectiveness of peat land reclamation on multi-well pads located in muskeg areas to match the surroundings. The peat land ecosystem is home to a diversity of flora and fauna and some of the vegetation can naturally capture CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Oil sands research

At our Horizon operation, valuable reclamation research and monitoring are conducted on a regular basis to investigate the ecological performance of our reclaimed areas. The data collected from our research is helping us develop best practices to promote the re-establishment of native forest and plant communities. By the end of 2016, we had reclaimed a total of 378 hectares, and planted more than 630,000 tree seedlings since 2008.

The research we’re doing at Horizon will not only enhance our own future reclamation efforts, but also those of the industry as a whole. Many of these projects take place in collaboration with other members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), helping all oil sands operators advance reclamation techniques. Some of these projects are:

• ‘Islands’ for soil placement - Extensive research and monitoring work at Horizon has helped determine that different cover soils provide different benefits to plant communities. With all the knowledge from this previous research work, practitioners are now researching the potential of a novel oil sands reclamation design: the ‘Islands’ concept. This project aims to develop an effective soil placement mix or ‘recipe’ to maximize tree and understory species establishment. Salvaged soil is strategically placed on reclaimed sites to develop the most efficient soil recipe, derived from a combination of both upland forest-floor mineral mix (known to carry higher plant diversity) and lowland based peat-mineral mix (proven most efficient for deciduous tree regeneration).

• Wetlands research - This project focuses on monitoring the development and health of naturally-formed wetlands on reclamation areas. Over a four-year timespan, this research will aim to understand how reclamation wetlands respond to environmental stresses. An index of biological integrity will be used to integrate sampling data from wet meadow and open water zones. This data will allow for wetland health to be tracked on an ongoing basis.

Ongoing vegetation research at reclaimed Horizon sites.