Horizon Lake a reflection of co-operation and conservation
Before removing a single barrel of bitumen from its Horizon Oil Sands operation, Canadian Natural Resources Limited sat down with aboriginal leaders to discuss the effects the operation would have on traditional lands.
The Horizon Oil Sands operation is located some 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray in the Tar RiverValley. One of the biggest challenges of the project was to mitigate the disruption of fish populations in Tar and Calumet River watersheds that are an important food source for the local community.
The solution was the construction of an 80-hectare (197-acre) fisheries compensation lake — the first of its kind in the oil sands.
Over a three-year period, 116,000 fish were removed from a section of the Tar River affected by the oil sands operation and relocated to the lake, or the Ells or Athabasca river systems. The process has provided a significant boost to the scientific knowledge of fish species in the Athabasca River and its tributaries.
Consultation with local stakeholders, including Dené, Cree and Métis peoples, was a key to the design and development process, says Calvin Duane, manager of environment for Canadian Natural. Extensive discussions were held with chiefs and council, elders, band industry relations organizations, and with the broader community.
“During the consultations we heard the concerns of the various groups and, based on their input, changed the location of the lake and the list of fish species that would be introduced,” Mr. Duane says. “A member of the community also gave the lake its name — Wapan Sakahikan, which is Cree for Horizon Lake. It has become a special place of spirituality and cooperation.”
It has been more than four years since Horizon Lake filled to capacity. During that time the lake and surrounding habitat has become home to a diversity of wildlife. To date 11 species of fish have been introduced, and the Arctic grayling (a species of special concern) has been documented. Loons, pelicans and swans are active on the lake, keeping them away from tailings ponds, and fox and bear have established dens in the area.
Methyl mercury levels are constantly monitored against levels upstream and mercury levels are being maintained at low levels. Habitats are assessed regularly as is shore-line erosion. And ongoing discussions with local peoples have resulted in the addition of traditional medicinal and food plants to the area.
Horizon Lake is a model on which other compensation lakes are being planned, adds Mr. Duane. “We are hosting tours, sharing data and making suggestions to other companies working in the oil sands. The goal is to help them to build on our success.”
Horizon Lake is a visible monument to multi-party co-operation.