We do our utmost to live up to the responsibility that goes with being a developer of one of Canada’s most valuable resources.
Like any industry, we have environmental challenges. Ensuring our operations don't affect nearby lakes and streams. Reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of our production. Reducing the amount of land we need to build each oil sands project. And striving to prevent impacts on wildlife in our operating areas.
That’s why we integrate environmental considerations into our business. They help enable us to minimize risks and increase efficiencies: from how we design our oil sands projects, to the way we operate, to the care we take in establishing detailed reclamation plans.
We're proud of our environmental record and even prouder of the many ways we’ve improved how we develop the oil sands. Our employees, many of whom live near our operations, are personally committed to making sure we keep finding better processes, methods and technologies to get this resource out of the ground safely and responsibly.
We have a formal process to align environmental actions with environmental and business priorities so that our programs and efforts are focused on the most important areas. This process also integrates environmental considerations into our business strategy, similar to the process we use to plan our capital requirements and production growth.
Having the information at hand to guide us on the actions to take today to continually improve our environmental performance can also help reduce project costs later by avoiding the need for expensive redesign or additional mitigation measures.
Improving environmental performance has been a business focus for us since Cenovus became a company. Our environmental planning process, shown below, involves:
|1. Sharing overall strategy and environmental expectations across the company||4. Providing direction to employees on key environmental risks, opportunities and priorities|
|2. Assessing emerging environmental issues and trends||5. Working with our teams to help incorporate environmental priorities and actions into their business planning and performance initiatives|
|3. Reviewing and evaluating our environmental priorities with leadership and management||6. Reviewing our progress and planning process for continuous improvement|
With a number of companies working in northern Alberta to develop the oil sands, the impacts of our industry add up over time. These cumulative impacts on the environment are an issue that we, as an industry, are working to address.
Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). Formed in 2012, COSIA is all about collaboration – oil sands producers finding solutions to improve environmental performance by focusing on areas such as water, land and GHG emissions. Each member company is expected to contribute technologies for the other members to use, as well as work collaboratively on new innovations with other members. Two examples of technologies we’ve contributed include innovations associated with our award-winning SkyStrat™ drilling rig, and our LiDea pilot project, which is under way to help protect and restore wildlife habitat, including the habitat of the Alberta woodland caribou, in northern Alberta. We continue to evaluate the many opportunities presented by other COSIA members to determine which ones we want to implement.
Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA). Through AEMERA, we are working with the Province of Alberta to take a ‘cumulative effects’ approach to monitoring and managing environmental performance for the province. AEMERA also oversees the Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Joint Oil Sands Monitoring initiative. This initiative monitors the effects of oil sands development to ensure the oil sands are developed in a responsible way.
Cenovus provides funding to the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring initiative. We also perform specific monitoring as detailed in the conditions of our approvals.
In March 2014, we received approval from the Alberta Energy Regulator for Grand Rapids, our fourth oil sands drilling project. Getting an oil sands project approved is a multi-year process due to the level of scrutiny that goes into the approval – from the provincial government, stakeholders and community members. And rightly so, because all kinds of operational and environmental implications need to be considered along with the project’s benefits.
The project approval process includes conducting a mandatory environmental impact assessment, where we consult with the community and key stakeholders, monitor environmental conditions, collect seasonal information about vegetation and wildlife, and model potential environmental impacts over the lifetime of the project. We also consider the cumulative impacts of regional oil sands development on air, water, land and wildlife, and estimate what our specific contribution to those impacts will be throughout the entire project lifecycle. All of this information is given to the regulator to review so they can make an informed decision on whether we receive approval to proceed.
This rigorous process helps clarify how we should develop our projects for long-term sustainability and helps us do the right things from the planning stage through to final reclamation.
We know that our overall GHG emissions will increase with the planned expansions of our oil sands operations. We’re tackling this challenge head on by focusing on reducing and mitigating our GHG emissions intensity – the amount of GHG emissions emitted per barrel of oil produced – through:
An important part of managing our GHG emissions is the work we do with government, industry leaders and academics to develop and prepare for emerging GHG emissions regulations. We recognize there’s a lot of uncertainty in emerging regulations, so we seek to mitigate our risk by developing forecasts and incorporating carbon pricing scenarios as part of our business planning.
“We take the concern surrounding our growing GHG emissions very seriously and are constantly looking to improve our energy efficiency and work collaboratively to develop longer-term technology solutions,” says Anamika Mukherjee, Specialist, Environment & Regulatory at Cenovus.
Our oil sands projects emit pollutants like sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) into the air as a result of burning natural gas in our steam generators. We address this challenge in a number of ways:
Since we use SAGD technology that relies on steam to get the oil from our oil sands projects out of the ground, the success of our operations depends on our ability to access and use water efficiently.
In our SAGD steam production process, the majority of the water we use to generate steam is recycled. When steam is injected into the ground to heat the oil, it condenses and eventually this water, called produced water, is brought to the surface with the oil. The oil and produced water mix is sent to our processing plant to be separated. The oil is processed and transported to be refined. The produced water is treated, so it can be reused over and over again in the SAGD steam production process. We use saline water in the steam production process, which is too salty for human or animal consumption, or for watering plants. We get this water from deep underground aquifer sources. To a small extent, we use fresh groundwater in the steam production process, which also comes from underground aquifer sources.
Of the water that was used in steam production at our Foster Creek and Christina Lake SAGD operations in 2013, over 81 percent came from recycled produced water, 17 percent from saline groundwater and two percent from fresh groundwater.
We’re constantly assessing ways to both reduce the amount of water we need and improve the efficiency of how we use it. This involves developing new technologies and processes to handle water, finding ways to recycle and reuse more water, and identifying ways to replace fresh water use with saline water use.
We’re putting our Environmental Commitments into action by identifying ways to reduce our water consumption and protect ground and surface water through a number of innovative initiatives:
Spills of any type – whether produced water, drilling fluids, chemicals, gasoline or oil – are not acceptable. But they can and do happen despite having engineering and process safety procedures in place.
In 2013, we experienced a slight increase in the number of reportable spills, as well as an increase in the volume released. "We know we need to improve our performance. We’re tracking our spills and making our spill prevention process more rigorous and increasing spill prevention awareness efforts among our workers,” says Mark Grant, Senior Advisor, Environment & Regulatory at Cenovus.
Ways we are addressing spills include:
Re-establishing the habitat to restore the natural diversity of plants and animals in areas where we operate is an integral part of the work we do. The goal of our reclamation efforts is to reduce habitat loss and keep core habitat areas connected.
Since no two areas across our operations in Alberta and Saskatchewan are the same, we give a lot of thought to the reclamation approach we take. Depending on the area and type of operations, the reclamation process can begin right after a well is no longer producing. In other cases, like at our oil sands projects, we choose to reuse already disturbed land for other purposes and reclaim it once we’re finished. While the result may be that we don't receive as many reclamation certificates for those areas in the short term, this approach helps to reduce the total amount of land that's disturbed in the long run.
We track and manage wells throughout their life cycle, from planning through production to reclamation, and have a long-term strategy in place to manage our inactive wells and actively accelerate the pace of our reclamation.
Currently 250 to 300 wells become inactive each year. That number will increase significantly over the next 15 years when a good many of the conventional natural gas wells drilled during the 1970s reach the end of their productive lives.
In 2013, we had more than 2,000 wells under active reclamation. We set annual targets so that this work remains a priority. We’re pleased to report that we achieved 116 percent of our inactive well reclamation target for 2013, and 102 percent of our surface reclamation target – receiving 126 reclamation certificates from the province.
Long before we break ground on a new project, we’ve already developed a comprehensive plan to reclaim that land once it’s no longer in use.
“We focused on efficiencies in our northern programs and because the late winter breakup gave us additional time to access more area, we were able to reclaim additional sites and reduce our costs associated with site access,” says Dave Marks, Group Lead, Environment & Regulatory at Cenovus.
Cones from trees are more than just squirrel fodder – they hold the future of our reclamation needs in their seeds. We collect select species of cones to extract the seeds and store them for future reclamation projects. The seeds will be used to produce seedlings, which will then be planted to revegetate areas under reclamation.
“In 2013, we took advantage of an exceptionally good tamarack cone crop, a sought-after item in the reclamation world,” says Ariane Bourassa, Environmental Advisor, Environment & Regulatory at Cenovus. “That’s because the cones are quite rare and viable cone crops may only occur once every five to six years. Collecting cones allows us to have access to a known number of seeds and eliminates our need to purchase them.”
We partnered with several Aboriginal businesses on this project, and gathered enough cones to produce more than 1.5 million seedlings. In January 2014, we also collected black spruce cones to add to our seed collection for future planting.
Tamarack, a native species to Alberta and Canada, grows quickly on disturbed sites. Fast growth and adaptability to wet peaty areas make it a perfect candidate for muskeg regions, which cover the majority of Alberta’s oil sands resource.
We work closely with government, industry partners and researchers on ways to reduce the impact our operations have on wildlife and habitat. We also plan our activities to avoid sensitive times for wildlife, such as migration and nesting periods for birds and calving season for caribou. As well, we have some innovative projects underway to help protect and restore wildlife habitat in northern Alberta.
One project involves the habitat of the Alberta woodland caribou, which is considered an endangered species in Alberta. During exploration activities over the past 40 years, many oil and gas companies cut corridors – long open stretches within the boreal forest – for seismic exploration and access routes. Exploration and restoration techniques have since improved so there’s less disturbance of the forest, but the older corridors have been slow to return to forest cover. These corridors attract wildlife including wolves, and as a result, more caribou are being preyed upon.
Our environmental specialists are working to restore these older disturbed areas to their natural state through a linear deactivation (LiDea) project, which began in 2012. They’re testing a number of innovative treatments for the corridors near our oil sands operations, with the goal of restoring the forest and giving young trees a chance to grow more quickly. We completed the second phase of the project this past winter, actively treating 210 kilometres of linear disturbance. LiDea is not a regulatory requirement – in fact, we are voluntarily working with the Province of Alberta to restore disturbances that we are not responsible for in an effort to improve regional habitat quality.
We’ve always encouraged our employees and local stakeholders to report wildlife sightings near our areas of operation. In the past, we used pen and paper to record the sightings. In 2013, we launched our Wild Watch website and app, developed for us by the Miistakis Institute at Mount Royal University, a non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife management and conservation. The app makes it easy for our field staff and other stakeholders to report wildlife sightings with the click of a button using their mobile devices.
Wild Watch will enable us to more accurately identify areas of concern, so we can adjust our behaviour and mitigation measures to reduce disturbance to wildlife. For example, we can reduce the speed limit at an identified high wildlife traffic area to avoid vehicle collisions.
“This smartphone app is great. It’s helping us better understand wildlife movements, so we can increase staff awareness about wildlife and help them be more conscious of our protection efforts,” says Susan Patey LeDrew, Senior Advisor, Environment & Regulatory at Cenovus.