Corporate Responsibility


Water is an important resource to the world and our operations and, as a result, protecting and using it responsibly is critical. We integrate risk management strategies throughout all our operations to balance our operational needs for water with the need to maintain the quality and quantity of this resource.

Fresh water resources are effectively managed by provincial regulators to ensure there are no significant regional effects on water. Canadian oil and natural gas is produced under some of the highest standards in the world, including strict water use regulations for fresh water withdrawals, waste water disposal and hydraulic fracturing.

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 discharge of water and surface water runoff. These regulations are designed to protect receiving waters.

Canadian Natural’s water management strategies focus on managing water use effectively and efficiently, while protecting water sources. They include:

  • reducing fresh water use by maximizing produced water recycling and saline water use (saline water refers to non-potable water, not suitable for drinking or agricultural use without treatment);
  • applying technology and increasing efficiencies to conserve fresh water use; and
  • avoiding effects to water sources by following industry-leading operating practices and regulations, and minimizing water use, fresh water withdrawals and produced water disposal where possible.

While specific projects vary in their water management strategies to account for reservoir and technology requirements, all strategies are consistently applied across the Company and provide the foundation for our work. Our water management programs also involve monitoring of water sources, storage and reporting. We review, track and report our performance on a regular basis to senior management, who in turn report on environmental matters quarterly to the Health, Safety, Asset Integrity and Environment Committee of the Board of Directors. For our performance data, please see our latest 2018 Stewardship Report to Stakeholders.

Reducing fresh water use

Source water for our operations is comprised of a combination of saline water, non-saline (fresh) water and recycled produced water. We maintain fresh water use below our annual regulatory allocation limits across our operations.

To reduce fresh water use we leverage technology to maintain high recycle rates of produced water. For example, at our larger thermal in situ oil sands operations, we continue to invest in water treatment, enhanced steam generation and further development of saline water sources. At our Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading operations, we are advancing technologies for the effective treatment of tailings water, which also increases produced water recycling. Read about our water use in our 2018 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 water sources. Across our operations we comply with applicable provincial and national regulations and industry operating practices to ensure protection of the environment and public safety during water sourcing, treatment and disposal.

Water released includes clean surface water pumped from pads, water treated as part of groundwater remediation systems and surface water runoff. Where practical, we reduce our footprint by re-using all water that can be recycled in our processes.

At our Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading operations, we limit fresh water withdrawals from the Athabasca River. Through a water management sharing agreement with other oil sands operators, cumulative water withdrawals are managed to ensure the ecology of the Athabasca River is protected. On-site water storage ponds holds enough water for up to 30 days, allowing us to maintain production in the event of water withdrawal restrictions during the river's low flow periods.

We also monitor groundwater levels at source of production to manage and detect any deviations from groundwater quality or levels. For example, Horizon has a network of 243 groundwater wells that monitor water quality within four aquifers, and the AOSP mines have 158 groundwater wells monitoring five aquifers. Disposal wells are drilled and operated to contain fluids in the target formations, isolating materials from the environment.

Canadian Natural Resources International (CNRI) operates under the same management strategies as our North American operations, meeting stringent operating standards and local regulatory requirements to ensure asset integrity and marine environment protection. Our offshore operating practices limit environmental impact through the use of water-based, drilling muds whenever possible and the reduction of produced water volumes.

On offshore installations, produced water is separated from hydrocarbons in gravity separators and treated to remove oil before it is discharged to sea. All our offshore 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.

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

Stakeholder engagement

We work with regulators, government, industry peers and multi-stakeholder groups to advance environmental management frameworks, improve operating practices and engage with public policy makers through CAPP. 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. Through the Oil Sands Monitoring Program we coordinate the regional monitoring data with the federal and provincial governments to provide transparent data to the public. 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 reports to regulators.

Industry collaboration

Water is an important resource, and protecting and using it responsibly is an industry-wide priority. Industry is effectively managing water and improving performance. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) Alberta Energy Industry Water Use Report released in February 2019, shows that the oil and natural gas industry accounts for 10% of all water allocated in Alberta. In 2017, industry water use was about 25% of the total water allocated. On a provincial level, this represents less than 0.18% of all non-saline water available. From 2013 to 2017, the volume of non-saline water used by the industry increased by 16% while oil and natural gas production increased by ~70%.

Being a leading R&D investor in the oil and natural gas sector, we invest in a variety of research projects and continually evaluate new technologies to increase efficiencies. We also collaborate with industry and academic institutions to research water treatment methods and continue to improve industry’s environmental performance.

Industry working together to reduce fresh water use

The Water Technology Development Centre.

Canadian Natural is a joint industry partner in a project to build a Water Technology Development Centre (WTDC) that will concurrently test different pilot plants with access to live water streams. The WTDC will be fully operational in 2019, allowing industry partners to advance new water treatment and recycling technologies for in situ oil sands development, and for researchers to test new technologies on ‘live’ process fluids in real world conditions. The $143-million dedicated test facility is a joint industry project being developed through (COSIA).

By improving how water is treated in in situ operations, the WTDC can further reduce the amount of water used, increasing recycling rates and improving overall energy efficiency. More information on this project is available in our Technology and Innovation Case Studies.