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Each year, our sustainability report provides an opportunity to openly share Syncrude’s performance towards meeting society’s expectations for responsible oil sands development and how we manage our operations to create positive impacts for Albertans and Canadians.
For us, sustainability is defined by not only our successes. It is also about our challenges and how we overcome them through a combination of on-the-ground problem-solving by our employees and long-term innovative solutions from the best minds in the business. It is guided by a material risk assessment which identifies our high, medium and low priorities. To address the high priority areas of land and biodiversity, water, tailings, Aboriginal relations, and regulatory and government relations, short- and long-term strategies are stewarded through our Board of Directors Safety, Health, Environment and Corporate Sustainability Committee. As you will read in this report, progress continues to be made.
Regarding land and biodiversity, we’ve permanently returned over 3,500 hectares back to nature. Wildlife is returning to these former mine areas, with ongoing monitoring that has observed and tracked numerous species. While we are an industry leader in reclamation, we aim to make further progress through cutting-edge research on wetland restoration and watershed performance. We are already seeing encouraging results. In fact, our Sandhill Fen research project was honoured in 2014 by the Mining Association of Canada with the first Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) Environmental Excellence Award, recognizing the project’s contribution towards improving wetland reclamation best practices.
As for tailings management, we are on track to start up in 2015 a commercial-scale centrifuge treatment facility that will de-water tailings into a clay material that can be used to reclaim former mining pits. We understand stakeholder concerns regarding industry’s performance on tailings management and are committed to meeting the long-term intent of the provincial energy regulator’s directive. Our Sandhill Fen research project, mentioned above, is a great example of a reclaimed area built on a foundation of dewatered tailings – a first in the industry. The fen continues to perform well. Over 120 species of plants are growing, including berries and Ratroot which established naturally.
Throughout our 50 years of applying research and innovation to the development of the oil sands, we have acquired a broad base of knowledge and expertise.
In terms of water use, Syncrude continues to perform better than the industry average but we are taking significant steps to improve our efficiency and take advantage of better reduction, re-use and recycling opportunities over the upcoming years. As well, we continue to research safe and acceptable alternatives to treat process-affected water for closure and incorporation into the final reclaimed landscape.
Our commitments in Aboriginal relations continue to guide numerous aspects of our operations, from employment to local procurement. As of 2014, employees of self-declared Aboriginal heritage comprised around nine per cent of our workforce and spending with local Aboriginal businesses had increased by 55 per cent over two years, reaching a cumulative $2.2 billion milestone. Efforts are now underway to increase retention and recruitment of Aboriginal employees, while identifying new opportunities for engagement and business development.
We also recognize the need to work constructively with government and regulatory bodies to manage issues and policies that could impact present or future operations. In this regard, we continue to engage in the work of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA), advocating for environmental and economic policies and regulations which support responsible development of our country’s energy resources. As well, toward ongoing development of our leases, we submitted in 2014 our formal regulatory application for the proposed Mildred Lake mine extension project. It is designed to sustain bitumen production levels at our Mildred Lake facility once current mining areas are exhausted. Consultations with Aboriginal communities and local stakeholders continue on this and other projects that have acknowledged impacts.
Sending every employee and contractor home safe at the end of each day remains a top priority. In 2014, we saw good progress towards our goal of “Nobody Gets Hurt”, with a focus on preventing slips, trips and falls resulting in a 15 per cent improvement in safety performance over the previous year.
Throughout our 50 years of applying research and innovation to the development of the oil sands, we have acquired a broad base of knowledge and expertise. This focus continues with over $620 million committed over the last five years on research and development activities, much of which will help improve environmental performance.
Collaboration continues to play a key role in technology development as well as other areas. Through initiatives like Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, the entire industry is sharing knowledge and research to foster new breakthroughs in environmental performance. Syncrude is also engaged on many other fronts to address such issues as labour supply, training and safety.
In addition to collaboration, input from stakeholders and communities of interest is integral to how our business evolves. We invite you to join us on our journey and provide your perspectives on what we are doing well and where we can improve. It can start today and we encourage you to respond to the survey included with this report.
The oil sands are a tremendous resource for all Canadians, creating wide-ranging benefits and opportunities. Through a progressive and principled approach to development, Syncrude will ensure you can be proud of this resource now and in the future.
President and Chief Executive Officer