Habitat Management

Minimizing Impacts Through Subsea Research

Learn how remotely operated vehicles have been used in the study of marine science in the Gulf of Mexico.
(Time: 2:08)

Building Healthy Ecosystems that Support Biodiversity

Nexen operates in areas of rich and sensitive ecosystems such as Canada’s boreal forest and prairie grasslands as well as offshore marine environments in the UK North Sea and Gulf of Mexico. We recognize that earning the social license to operate and grow our business is dependent on our ability to explore for, and develop, energy reserves without adversely affecting natural ecosystems and wildlife. As a result, we integrate ecosystem considerations into our business practices and operations. This helps us minimize risks and maximize opportunities as we work to make a positive contribution to protect ecosystems in all of the areas where we operate.

A young bull moose near our shale gas operations in the Horn River basin of northeastern B.C.

Getting to Know Our Neighbours

Nexen operations share habitat with a variety of key species that contribute to ecosystem biodiversity – from bears to migratory birds to rare deepwater squid and plant species. The more we understand their life histories and environments, the more able we are to adjust our activities and minimize disturbance.

Both independently and in partnership with industry peers, governments, universities and other organizations, Nexen invests in research, monitoring and conservation activities that build the healthy ecosystems that support biodiversity.

Protecting Wildlife

In northeastern British Columbia, Canada, Nexen, along with nine other shale gas producers, is working to better understand the potential impact of the industry’s operations on boreal caribou. Boreal caribou are listed as “threatened” under the federal Species at Risk Act.  Habitat disturbance caused by both natural events and industrial activity has been linked to increased predation of caribou calves.

The four-year study, undertaken by University of Alberta researchers, involves placing GPS radio collars on boreal caribou and their predators to track activity during calving season. The goal is to identify where caribou calves are most vulnerable to predators – and where survival rates are highest – and then put this information to practical use to increase rates of calf survival.

Other examples of initiatives we’ve taken to protect wildlife and maintain a healthy ecosystem include:

  • Contributing to the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, which collects valuable monitoring data on more than 2,000 species and habitats in the province.
  • Donating to the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation to protect bald eagles, hawks, great horned owls, red fox and other wildlife near the site of the former sour gas plant in Balzac, Alberta, that is now being reclaimed and remediated.
  • Supporting the work of Nigerian Montane Forest Project to protect the ecological integrity of Nigeria’s Montane forests.
  • Introducing bird deterrent devices to discourage migratory birds from entering areas where they may be harmed.

A Pronghorn Antelope on the grasslands near Nexen's Many Islands gas processing plant, approximately 60 km north of Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Reducing Disturbances to Land and Wildlife

Responsible habitat management involves a wide range of factors. While focusing on key species is a valuable exercise, it is also important to consider the landscape as a whole. Our activities – whether it’s drilling wells or operating large oil sands projects – disturb land, and we work to minimize that impact in a number of ways:

  • Prior to development, Nexen conducts environmental assessments, engages local stakeholders and identifies sensitive ecosystems so we can determine how best to mitigate impacts when developing our oil and natural gas projects.
  • In our conventional oil and shale gas operations, we use narrow seismic lines, directional drilling and reuse old seismic lines when possible to avoid unnecessary land disturbance.
  • We share infrastructure, including access roads and pipelines, with other developers. For example, in northeastern British Columbia, Nexen and other industry operators shared the cost of extending and using the 100-kilometre Komie Road (operated by another energy developer) to access our well sites and other assets. In addition, shared pipeline infrastructure that carries production from multiple energy developers has been built alongside the Komie Road to minimize industry's footprint.

For our drilling operations in the oil sands, Nexen’s contractors found a way to reduce the impact we have on fish habitat. When withdrawing water from lakes, instead of directly pumping the water out of the lake, we put a barrel wrapped in a mesh screen into the ice and then place a pipe, with another screen on it, inside the barrel. The barrel lowers the water velocity to prevent stickleback and fresh water shrimp from being sucked against the water screens.

Also at our drilling operations in the oil sands, we’ve decreased the impact on land utilized by 24 hectares per year by installing a new centrifuge that eliminates the need for large sumps.

Nexen employees plant trees near our Dilly Creek shale gas facility in northeastern British Columbia, Canada.

Faster Forests and Increased Biodiversity

As part of the collaborative work we do with Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Nexen is a leading participant on the Land Environmental Priority Area (EPA) Steering Committee. Will Hughesman, Manager of Regulatory Affairs and Jeremy Reid, Environmental Specialist, represent Nexen on this committee and lead Joint Industry Projects targeted at the Land EPA objectives. The objectives of this group include:

  • footprint reduction — more efficient use of land by reducing the extent and duration of industrial footprints
  • accelerate reclamation — reclaiming and restoring disturbed land in a timely manner
  • preserve biodiversity — maintaining natural diversity including bird, mammal and fish species with a focus on species of management concern

As such, the group is working on a number of ground-breaking fronts. Among them is the Faster Forests initiative, which has resulted in approximately 2 million trees and shrubs being planted in more than 1,000 locations between 2009 and the end of 2013. Nexen and other Faster Forests partners are planting spruce, birch and aspen seedlings, native shrubs and even wildflowers — to more accurately mimic the natural biodiversity of the boreal forest and speed up the reforestation process.

The Land EPA group is also advancing winter wetland planting. The wetlands of the boreal forest are important for water quality and animal habitat, but they’re difficult to access for planting during the warmer months due to the bog-like nature of this land.

At Nexen we’re committed to reclaiming the land we use. One way we’re reclaiming land at our Long Lake and Kinosis oil sands sites is by planting new trees to replace those we’ve disturbed. Since our reclamation efforts began, approximately 660,000 trees and shrubs had been planted at sites – we planted our 1 millionth tree in July 2014.

Terrestrial Remediation & Reclamation

Once oil and gas activities are completed, most jurisdictions require disturbed habitats to be returned to ‘equivalent land capability’ – meaning that industry is required to reclaim the land. Remediation involves removing any contamination on site and reclamation involves contouring the land and planting species to start successional regrowth of the area.

At our Long Lake oil sands facility, many of our core hole exploration sites were planted to enhance the reclamation process of establishing healthy forests. Reclamation efforts included the planting of 240,000 seedlings in 2013 to mitigate areas disturbed by seismic and corehole exploration.

We’ve been actively reclaiming oil and gas sites for many years now:

  • In Canada, we have reclaimed and received regulatory closure on approximately 592 hectares of land since 2004. Our Canadian operations exist in a variety of landscapes and ecosystems, each of which has their own unique challenges that require innovative methods to successfully return to their original state.
  • Legacy sites such as our historic Manatokan Thermal Pilot plant at Cold Lake, Alberta, required an innovative method to reclaim the land. Through the application of science, agronomy and a cooperative attitude of communication with both the landowner and regulators, Nexen received a reclamation certificate in early 2012.

Remediation and reclamation requires the engagement of a diverse group of stakeholders to ensure the land is returned to the desired end land use. These positive relationships between government agencies, landowners and the communities allow us to successfully close the life cycle of our assets.


In the marine environment, our non-producing offshore assets also have to be safely decommissioned. This process requires wells being cemented shut and remaining structures removed. However, offshore oil and gas structures often serve as surrogate ‘scaffolding’ for marine organisms such as coral to attach to, which creates diverse habitats.

Under specific conditions, the Gulf of Mexico is now allowing some offshore oil and gas structures to remain as part of a ‘Rigs-to-Reefs’ program. Not only does this program provide valuable habitat for a variety of marine species, it also supports local industries such as recreational diving and fishing. Nexen has piloted this program in decommissioning one of our platforms and is in the process of determining what future structures could be incorporated into the program.

The Algar Habitat Restoration Pilot Project is a woodland caribou habitat restoration pilot initiated in 2011 by the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative (OSLI), which has since joined Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. The Project encompasses 56,915 ha within the Algar caribou management area southwest of Fort McMurray.

This project is a collaboration between Nexen and the five other COSIA partner companies with assistance from the Province of Alberta and Alberta Pacific Forestry Industries. Nexen and the funding members have collectively committed $5 million to date to restore over 200 km of orphaned footprint. Project implementation occurred over the winters of 2012 and 2013.

The Algar Project currently serves as the largest example of off-lease habitat restoration within the oil sands region. The results of the project have been shared with COSIA and will continue to inform future restoration and reclamation work within the region.

To date 130,000 trees have been planted within the area, and about 40% of disturbed land available for restoration has been treated. A vegetation monitoring program is underway to evaluate the effectiveness of the re-vegetation treatment and a wildlife monitoring program was designed in cooperation with the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and the University of Alberta.

On June 5, 2014, the Project was awarded with the Emerald Foundation’s “Shared Footprints” award. This award recognizes the collaboration and cooperation exhibited by the companies and government agencies involved to jointly restore caribou habitat.

Project Performance

Caribou Habitat
  Pre-restoration intact habitat: 14,850 ha
  Habitat restored to date: 5,850 ha
  Projected habitat at project completion (2016) 27,900 ha


Re-vegetation and wildlife monitoring programs are underway to measure effectiveness of restoration treatments with the end goal of rehabilitating caribou habitat. This project provides a concrete example of defensible, compelling, habitat-focused action that can be applied widely across the Oil Sands region in areas of low development and high value habitat.