Doing it Right - Innovation in reclamation

Corporate Responsibility

Doing it Right - Innovation in reclamation

As part of our commitment to responsible operations, we work to reduce and manage our impact on the land. Every effort is made to return the landscape to a healthy ecosystem upon completion of the project, working closely with landowners and land managers. 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 complement the adjacent landscape. We have been pursuing alternative re-vegetation strategies by transplanting native grass species to our reclamation sites. The hay acts as a natural seed source and retains moisture, accelerating the pace of reclamation. We are also using lightweight panels to minimize cattle grazing and protect the native grass seedlings, while still allowing for regular wildlife grazing on the rest of the site. The vegetation panels, made from salvaged tubing, have been very successful on well sites being reclaimed in southeast Alberta. We constructed over 1,000 panels and further expanded their use to include access roads.

These new techniques are reducing re-vegetation timelines on grasslands from three-five years to two-four years, while also protecting the diversity of natural species on reclaimed sites.

Vegetation panels and crimped straw are used to minimize grazing in native grasslands, contributing to an increased pace in reclamation of native prairie areas.

Bio-remediation for soil treatment

Canadian Natural is using an enhanced bio-treatment process that employs purified bacteria to treat hydrocarbon affected soil without excavation (in situ) or following excavation (ex situ). Micro-organism soil remediation provides an environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution by avoiding excavation and trucking materials to a landfill. The treated soil does not need further soil aeration and can be used for backfill. Enhanced bio-remediation has been applied at two remote locations within the Nipisi light oil waterflood field since 2015.

Watercourse crossing remediation

Another example of our reclamation work is the Roadway Watercourse Crossings Remediation Directive. In the past, we primarily managed roadway watercourse crossing issues as they arose. To manage our capital more proactively and improve fish populations, we are developing a road inventory, stream crossing assessments processes and remedial work. Working together with the Alberta government and regulator, we have completed a dataset to prioritize remediation of threatened fish habitat.

Advancing understanding of reclamation in the oil sands reclamation

At our Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading operations, valuable research and monitoring are conducted on a regular basis to investigate the ecological performance of our reclaimed areas and improve reforestation. The data collected from our research is helping us develop best practices to promote the re-establishment of native forest and plant communities.

We planted the one millionth reclamation tree at Horizon and continue to work to re-establish 1,300 hectares of continuous forest at Horizon. By the end of 2018, we had progressively reclaimed more than 1,350 hectares at our Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading operations.

One millionth reclamation tree planted at Horizon site with Elders from Fort McKay First Nation and Canadian Natural's senior management.

Research collaboration

Research will not only enhance our own reclamation efforts, but also those of the industry as a whole.

Industry collaboration allows companies to study the successes and challenges of their peers, share the best ideas and approaches, and continuously improve upon them. Many of these projects take place in collaboration with other members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC), helping all operators advance reclamation techniques. Some of the projects led by Canadian Natural are:

  • The Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative (OSVC) is a collaborative effort to harvest and bank native boreal forest seeds for use in revegetation and research.
  • The Genomics Enhanced Reclamation Index (GERI) Stockpile project is helping us understand how soils may change while they are stockpiled, to determine how best to manage them in reclamation activities for both mining and in situ oil sands operations.
  • Developing effective soil placement mix or ‘recipe’, using a combination of salvaged soil placed on reclaimed sites.

In 2018, we were also part of COSIA's Fall Field Tour at the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, which included visits to remote reclamation trials sites in the oil sands. This tour demonstrated how industry is addressing challenges in a creative and collaborative way, to enhance reclamation and re-establish native forest on seismic lines.

OSVC research - Alnus fruit

Offshore platform decommissioning projects

After 300 million barrels of oil produced over a 35-year period, the last well at the Murchison platform in the North Sea was shut down in 2014. This platform was once taller than a 60-storey building and had a crew of 192 people. Murchison is the first platform that Canadian Natural has taken out of service. Throughout all phases of this process we have worked to ensure the safety of employees and contractors, the integrity of our facilities and environmental stewardship.

We conducted a full assessment to confirm to the UK government that the platform was no longer profitable, and submitted a full decommissioning plan along with an Environmental Impact Assessment to ensure the work was carried out with minimal environmental impact. In 2016, we completed the removal of the platform topsides, but before any platform modules could be lifted, all piping, cables and steelwork were cut and removed. Detailed job descriptions and Safety Management System tools were essential elements in managing the work activities safely. To prevent any potential hydrocarbon releases, all piping was cleaned with emergency response plans in place.

Another major milestone was the successful removal of the 26,000-tonne jacket in 2017, with the use of new technology for the subsea cutting and lifting of large diameter steel sections. Following that, we initiated plugging and abandonment of subsea wells and removal of any historic debris from the seabed. Final surveys will be undertaken to ensure environmental protection, with full completion targeted for 2018.

During the Murchison decommissioning project, over 40,000 tonnes of topsides and jacket structures were removed from the North Sea and transported to Norway for recycling and disposal, with the goal of recovering 95% of those materials.

The Project Team is taking the lessons learned and applying them to the Ninian North platform decommissioning project, including a focus on safe operations, maximizing offline activities and working effectively with contractors.

Left: Heavy lift companies dismantling and removing modules from the topside of Murchison platform. Right: members of the Decommissioning team.