Environmental responsibility

Kearl environment

We will develop Kearl carefully and responsibly to protect tomorrow, today.  
As the operator, Imperial Oil understands its duty to be a good corporate citizen and knows that part of this responsibility is to do what it can now to make sure future reclamation efforts are successful. Our goal with Kearl was to approach development differently to better address environmental challenges. As a result, diluted bitumen produced from Kearl will have about the same life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions as many other crude oils refined in the United States as a result of technologies which significantly enhance environmental performance. Energy needs have been reduced by using a proprietary froth treatment process that eliminates the need to build an upgrader; and through the upcoming installation of energy-saving cogeneration capabilities.

Greenhouse Gas emissions
Air emissions and their cumulative effects are a key focus area. Kearl has selected to use the most energy-efficient, commercially proven and economically viable technologies available to minimize emissions and greenhouse gases. Kearl uses cogeneration for steam and electricity production, a low-energy extraction process to recover bitumen, and heat integration between the extraction and froth treatment facilities to minimize energy consumption.

The Kearl team believes the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gases is to continue to improve energy efficiencies. Over the lifetime of the project, new technologies will be evaluated and applied to improve efficiencies and further reduce emissions. Energy audits and benchmarking performance measurements will drive these improvements

Fish habitat, water usage & tailings ponds
Kearl is building the first of three compensation lakes to replace fish habitat disrupted by development. These lakes will be deep enough to allow fish to winter in them and will eventually connect to the existing Kearl Lake.

Compensation lake

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Water usage
Fresh water required for production comes from the Athabasca River. The Athabasca has one of the lowest industrial allocations of water of any river in Alberta and one of the largest flows. Total allocation to industry is less than three percent of the river’s flow and less than two percent is used annually. To put this in perspective, currently 60 percent of the flow of the South Saskatchewan River basin, which includes the Bow River flowing through Calgary, is allocated to all industrial users.

However, the potential impact of our industry's water usage is greater during the winter months when the river flow is low. To prepare for this, Kearl has the capacity to store 30 days worth of water required to sustain production when water withdrawals are restricted during the winter low-flow months.


Tailings are the water, clay, sand and a small amount of bitumen that remain after most of the bitumen has been removed from the sand during the extraction process. These materials occur naturally under the surface of the land prior to being mined. Imperial’s tailings process focuses on managing issues associated with the tailings until they can safely be returned underground during ongoing reclamation of the Kearl lease.


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During Kearl’s first five to six years of operation, tailings from the bitumen extraction process will be stored in a carefully engineered above-ground tailings area. After this initial period, the settled ‘mature’ fine tailings will be gradually removed and thickened and then placed back into the mined-out pits. These thickened tailings will be placed in thin layers and allowed to dry into a solid state. Eventually they will be covered by sand and topsoil to enable a reclaimable area containing both upland and wetland features. The tailings area will be reclaimed over several decades.


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Land use & reclamation
Kearl will be developed responsibly, reclaiming land as it becomes available and using technology and techniques to minimize the project’s impact.

Kearl’s leases occupy approximately 200 square kilometers (76 square miles) in the Athabasca region of northern Alberta. To mine this area, trees, bush and top soil are removed to reach the oil sands underneath. Topsoil and other reclamation materials are stockpiled separately for later use. After mining and tailings placement, all of the land will be reclaimed in a process that involves significant land form creations and contouring followed by topsoil replacement, seeding, fertilizing and tree planting.

Kearl is committed to using the most recent reclamation practices: Reclamation is an area where advancements are being made continuously. When finished, the land will be reclaimed to a boreal forest ecosystem that meets government regulations as well as the needs of local stakeholders, aquatic and wildlife habitat.  As part of this commitment to responsible development, members of the Kearl team participate in various regional groups that have a mandate to monitor and minimize the impact of development; groups like the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) who monitor water quality and the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) who monitor air quality. The Kearl team is also involved with the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), responsible for developing recommendations for government on a regional environmental management system in the oil sands region, including reclamation practices. Imperial Oil also participates in the Canadian Oilsands Network for Research and Development’s (CONRAD) environmental research programs.


Gateway hill

Kearl will be reclaimed as the project progresses and be home to wildlife again, similar to the reclaimed land shown here.