Kearl is considered one of Canada’s highest-quality oil sands deposits and is being developed with technology innovations that reduce cost and enhance environmental performance.
In this article
Imperial is committed to complying with an environmental protection order related to industrial wastewater at the Kearl site
Kearl is one of Canada’s highest quality oil sands deposits and represents the next generation of oil sands mining. Technology innovation is at the heart of Kearl. We’ve developed new approaches that enhance environmental performance and reduce cost. For example, our use of Paraffinic Froth Treatment technology and the integration of energy-saving cogeneration means Kearl is able to produce blended bitumen with about the same life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions as many other crude oils refined in the United States.
Kearl has an estimated 4.6 billion barrels of recoverable bitumen resource, which will help meet North America’s energy needs for the next 40 years. Production at Kearl’s initial development began in April 2013 while the start-up of the Kearl expansion in mid-2015 brought production capacity to 220,000 bpd.
Located 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) north of Fort McMurray, AB, Kearl is jointly owned by Imperial (71 percent) and ExxonMobil Canada (29 percent).
Imperial media line: +1 587 476 7010
Shane Porterfield, Socioeconomic Advisor, Athabasca Region, +1 587 476 1537
Jordan Nail, Aboriginal Supplier Development Advisor, +1 587 476 4699
Safety and emergency preparedness
Nothing is more important than the safety of employees, contractors and neighbours. Our goal is Nobody Gets Hurt. That’s our commitment to everyone who works at or lives near our operations.
- Learn more about Imperial’s safety programs, emergency preparedness and commitment to protecting workers and communities.
- Read about our safety performance in the Sustainability Report
All Kearl workers go through rigorous training, related to both site risks and the specific hazards associated with individual roles. Supervision is on-site to ensure workers are ready to work safely, every day.
Kearl has a fully-developed emergency response plan (ERP) that is tested regularly and supported by training and practice exercises, and ongoing communication with nearby communities. We will reach out to nearby residents if required during an emergency, or if any day-to-day operations could impact those in the area.
We are always looking to improve technologies and practices that reduce our impact on the land, water and air.
- Discover more about oil sands and the environment, including Kearl’s on-site water storage to eliminate river withdrawals in low-flow periods
- Visit our research and innovation section
- Read about our environmental performance in the Sustainability Report
Improved energy efficiencyThe energy we use to extract and develop Kearl bitumen is reduced by using a proprietary froth treatment process that eliminated the need to build an upgrader. Energy-saving cogeneration (to produce steam and electricity) also helps reduce the energy draw from the Alberta electricity grid and to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Kearl has completed Muskeg Lake, the first of three compensation lakes to connect to Kearl Lake and replace fish habitat disrupted by development. These lakes are deep enough to allow fish to winter in them.
A significant amount of reclamation work has been done in the area.
Using technology to protect waterfowl
State-of-the-art technology is helping Kearl to provide best-in-class levels of waterfowl protection. The system provides 360-degree radar detection and tracking coverage extending to a range of two nautical miles. Deterrent options include noise cannons, eye-safe lasers, scarecrow/effigies, and long-range acoustical devices that use a variety of deterrent noises. The sounds are constantly changed in order to prevent birds from habituating to a consistent signal. The system is maintained and operated by a dedicated on-site team, and operates throughout the annual bird migration and breeding season.
TailingsTailings 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 manages issues associated with tailings until they are safely returned underground as part of our ongoing reclamation of the Kearl lease.
- Read more about tailings management in our Oil sands and the environment section
Land use & reclamationKearl’s leases occupy approximately 200 square kilometres (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 materials are stockpiled separately for later use in reclamation. After mining and tailings placement, all of the land will be reclaimed in a process that involves significant landform creations and contouring followed by topsoil replacement, seeding, fertilizing and tree planting. Using continuously improving reclamation techniques, the land will be reclaimed to a boreal forest ecosystem that meets government regulations as well as the needs of local stakeholders and aquatic and wildlife habitat. As part of this commitment to responsible development, members of the Kearl team participate in various regional groups that monitor and minimize the impact of development including:
- Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), focused on environmental research
- Alberta Environmental Montoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA)
- Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA), who monitor air quality
Updates on Environmental Protection Order
- Apply for support for your local organization or project
- Meet some of our neighbours and read about community investment programs
Involving local Aboriginal groups and stakeholders in project planning has been part of Kearl’s objectives from the project’s inception. Formal consultations and engagement meetings are held throughout the year to update nearby community members on project status and to discuss important concerns such as water usage, land reclamation, business and employment opportunities.
Consultation is an important ongoing process and Imperial is committed to continuous dialogue with our neighbours in Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay and Fort McMurray. Kearl also has cooperation agreements to collaborate and work with other industry members on responsible development.
- For oil sands development information visit CAPP
- Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA)
Community advisory and reclamation planning committees
We have established advisory committees with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Fort McKay First Nation to share learnings and help guide us in responsible development of our Kearl oil sands mine.
Made up of community members including Elders and youth, these groups participate in tours of the site to view and learn about our operations and reclamation progress, discuss concerns and provide insight from a traditional knowledge perspective.
Being active and visible in the community helps to foster our relationships with community members. We engage in a number of activities, including tradeshows and information sessions, cultural events and school activities to develop long-standing and meaningful relationships. Some examples include:
This annual event recognizes and celebrates the signing of Treaty 8. Imperial has been a supporter of this event in Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan for a decade. It’s an opportunity for us to learn more about the community, their culture and learn their personal stories.
Imperial was a founding sponsor of and active participant in the science fair program at the Athabasca Delta Community School in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. Recently, our team visited the school to demonstrate how we apply science to the work we do in the oil sands. Hands-on activities included discovering how sounds and vibrations can help us find oil deposits and learning about erosion control, wildlife monitoring and in-situ extraction.
Working at Kearl
- View and apply for Kearl jobs and learn about camp life
Our goal is to attract and retain the highest quality talent and support your success through development opportunities, training and a supportive work environment.
Through new technology, our Kearl oil sands mining operation north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, is raising the bar for industry environmental performance and is positioned to double production volumes and significantly increase employment opportunities well into the future.
SyncrudeImperial owns 25 percent of Syncrude Canada - a pioneer in oil sands mining. With high value production and improvement actions ongoing, Syncrude is a strategic asset in our company's portfolio.