Protecting Air, Land and Water

Oil and natural gas activity impacts air, land, and water. Environmental protection is a high priority for the industry. We continually work to: 

  • Reduce air emissions and manage air quality   
  • Safeguard water resources through efficient use and monitoring  
  • Reduce land disruption, with a focus on restoration and protecting wildlife. 



Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are important in the global context of climate change.   

Other air emissions associated with oil and natural gas development are important at the local and regional level because they can cause odours, acid rain, and ‘smog.’ These emissions include nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and fine particulates (very fine particles), which are primarily created from fuel combustion in facilities and vehicles. Methane emissions are a focus in the natural gas industry.  

Air Quality Regulations

Provinces use comprehensive systems to manage air quality including regulation of industrial emissions, air monitoring, setting air quality objectives and reporting of the air quality health index. In British Columbia, the air quality regulatory framework is managed through the Environmental Management Act and Waste Discharge Regulation.   

Alberta has a comprehensive air quality management system that is used to address air issues and concerns. This comprehensive approach to managing air quality includes industrial approvals, ambient air monitoring, management frameworks and regional planning.  

Air Quality Monitoring 

The industry is required to monitor and report emissions. Over the past 40 years, the Government of Alberta has been conducting environmental monitoring activities under the Environment Protection and Enhancement Act. As natural resource development activities have increased significantly in that time, the province has recognized the need to understand the cumulative effects and impact on the environment. 


Minimizing Impacts  

Minimizing impacts on land from natural gas and oil development begins at the project planning stage, as companies look for opportunities to avoid sensitive habitats, minimize the surface area needed, and work with other users to reduce overall land footprint. This includes locating roads so they can be shared by multiple operators, creating narrow seismic lines, drilling multiple wells from a single well pad, employing low-impact pipeline construction methods and many other measures.  

The challenge is to reduce the size and duration of land impacts, to maintain biodiversity and to support natural ecosystems. From initial exploration through to project closure, companies strive to achieve timely reclamation and restoration.  

All land is reclaimed by law, meaning that once operations are complete, companies must restore disturbed land to an equivalent landscape, with self-sustaining native plant

A graphic showing the difference between vertical and directional drilling

Multi-well pads reduce land disturbance

Using horizontal drilling technology means many wells can be drilled from a single location. The use of multi-well drilling pads has greatly reduced the amount of land disturbed in drilling operations. For example, a 20-well horizontal drilling pad disturbs about 5% of the land that would be impacted by drilling an equal number of separate wells. 

Myth: Oil Sands Development

A common myth is that oil sands development is destroying an area of land greater than the size of England. It’s just not true. 

A moose standing in the forest near a large puddle

Wildlife and Biodiversity

Oil and natural gas activity occurs in diverse landscapes that are home to many species of plants and animals. Protecting species and habitat is an important consideration in planning for oil and natural gas development. 


Land reclamation ensures that land disturbed for energy production is returned to a self-sustaining state. Detailed reclamation plans are part of a company’s application for approval of a project. Land reclamation follows standard steps. 

A collage of images featuring people, Indigenous Pow wow and Fort McMurray

Stakeholder Input

Throughout a project, natural gas and oil companies work with numerous stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples, local communities, governments and landowners, to understand and address concerns about potential impacts on the community, the land and biodiversity. 


Responsible Water Use

Protecting water resources is a priority for Canada’s oil and natural gas industry. Canada’s natural gas and oil industry safeguards water resources through efficient use and ensures appropriate systems are in place to minimize risks to rivers, lakes and groundwater.   

Water use during oil and natural gas production is licensed through provincial regulators. Water withdrawals from lakes, rivers and underground aquifers are reported to and monitored by provincial regulators to prevent water pollution and protect the integrity of natural water systems, especially during low flow periods or drought conditions.  

Reducing Freshwater Use

Canada’s oil and natural gas industry actively recycles water during operations and continually looks for ways to reduce freshwater use. Through investments in research and technology, producers are developing ways to reduce freshwater use even further.  

Spotlight: Industry in Action

Ovintiv’s Water Resources Hub in the Montney natural gas region of northeastern B.C. significantly reduces freshwater use in Ovintiv’s hydraulic fracturing operations, by accessing salt water from a subsurface aquifer that’s unfit for domestic or agricultural use. By tapping this otherwise unusable water resource, the hub conserves close to 3 million cubic metres of freshwater over five years, plus avoiding some 250,000 water truck trips for transporting fluids to well sites. 

Monitoring Water Quality in the Oil Sands

Oil sands projects are required to conduct extensive water studies and monitor both surface and groundwater that may be impacted by operations. Mining and in situ operations are carefully managed to avoid affecting the quality of surface water (rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and other fresh water sources) and groundwater. Water data is collected through various federal and provincial agencies to detect any effects of oil sands development on water quality. The Government of Alberta has been monitoring water quality in the region since the early 1970s.