Canadian Natural Resources Ltd
Photo by Garth Lenz.

Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) is one of the largest oil and gas companies operating in Canada today, and Canada’s largest natural gas producer.16 It is also the largest private landowner in Western Canada, second only to the government.18 Its domestic assets include a mix of natural gas, light crude oil, heavy crude oil, bitumen and synthetic crude oil in British Columbia (BC) and Alberta.

Why the top 50?

As one of Canada’s largest oil and gas producers, CNRL makes our list as a top emitter. And CNRL’s carbon-heavy investments are on the rise: in March 2017, CNRL bought nearly $13 billion worth of oil sands assets from Royal Dutch Shell Ltd. and Marathon Oil, effectively doubling its oil sands holdings.19

Key Stats

Head office: Calgary, Alberta

Countries of operation: Canada, United Kingdom and Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa

Revenue: C$16.7 billion20

Assets: C$73.9 billion 21

Reserves: 7,539,000,000 oil bbl, 6,730,000 gas MMcf22

Production: oil, natural gas liquids and oil sands: 641,475 bbl/d; natural gas: 1,601.000 MMcf/d; total: 908,303 boe/d23

Employees: 9,973 24

Memberships: Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Mining Association of Canada, Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada 

In Depth

The company was founded in 1989, beginning its operations in the gas basins of Alberta. During the 1990s, the company began extracting natural gas in northeastern BC, and heavy crude oil and thermal in situ projects throughout Western Canada. In 2000, it began its offshore activities.1


CNRL holds two oil sands mining operations—the Athabasca Oil Sands Project and the Horizon Oil Sands mines, both located in Alberta. Its natural gas operations are located in northeastern BC, northwestern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Its crude oil and natural gas liquids deposits, located in the Athabasca and Cold Lake regions of Alberta, are known as “unconventional” oil, requiring the use of steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) and other technologies to be mined.2 It also mines for oil in deepwater offshore operations in the UK portion of the North Sea and in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa); the company is planning to increase its offshore operations in both regions.3 Offshore drilling in deep waters continues to be one of the most dangerous forms of oil extraction.4


Shareholder Country Ownership
Share (%)
Capital Group Co. Inc. US 9.56
Royal Bank of Canada CA 5.51
Wellington Management Group LLP US 4.45
Bank of Nova Scotia CA 4.32
Vanguard Group Inc. US 2.98
Toronto-Dominion Bank CA 2.90
Power Corporation of Canada CA 2.88
Invesco Ltd. BM 2.78
Government of Canada CA 2.57
Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada CA 2.38
Bank of Montreal CA 2.36
T. Rowe Price Group Inc. US 1.93
Beutel Goodman CA 1.61
Province of Quebec CA 1.39
Letko, Brosseau & Associates CA 1.25
Ameriprise Financial Inc. US 1.02
Manulife Financial Corporation US 1.00
Norway NO 1.00

Included are all shareholdings of 1% and greater. Source: Orbis Database, October 2018.


At a time when many large energy companies are selling off their oil sands holdings due to the sector’s declining profitability, CNRL is doubling down on new investments, including a major purchase of Shell’s Alberta assets in 2017. To date, CNRL has made no major investments in renewable energy production. It is apparent that the firm is committed to continuing “business as usual” by developing fossil fuels in Canada, at the climate’s expense.

Perhaps CNRL’s close involvement in the Canadian policy development network for carbon extraction can shed light on its goals. Along with 12 other oil sands operators, CNRL is a founding member of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA)— an organization that brings major industry players together to generate research on technologies to help “green” oil sands development, such as carbon capture and storage.5

CNRL’s chairman, N. Murray Edwards, is a major shareholder of Imperial Metals and Ensign Energy. His endorsement of the Alberta NDP’s 2015 Climate Leadership Plan—which seeks to phase out coal by 2030, implement a carbon tax and move provincial energy generation toward renewables—may seem contradictory to his interests, but it appears that the plan may have substantial benefits for the oil industry. Many of Alberta’s largest fossil fuel corporations, for example, support a consumer-based carbon tax since it helps legitimate the government’s support for more oil pipelines, while deflecting the onus for carbon costs away from oil producers themselves.


CNRL has a history of oil spills in Canada. According to Greenpeace Canada, between the years 2003 and 2012 CNRL caused over 2,000 pipeline incidents in Alberta—700 more than any other company in Alberta.6 The most recent events are listed here.

Primrose site seepage

In 2009, seepage was detected at CNRL’s Primrose East operation near Cold Lake, Alberta, on Treaty 6 land in the traditional territory of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation.7 The company originally cited faulty wellbores—holes in the rock used to extract oil and gas—as the cause of the incident. However, an investigation by the Energy Resource Conservation Board, now called the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), found that the wellbore theory, which would have displaced the fault from CNRL to one of its regulators, was highly unlikely. Instead, the AER suggested that problems that arose during the process of “steaming” (otherwise known as “high pressure cyclic steam stimulation”) were the more plausible cause8—a finding which would call into question a considerable number of CNRL’s current operations.

In late May 2013, a seepage of bitumen emulsion—a mixture of heavy oil sands crude and water—at CNRL’s Primrose site was reported to the public.9 It was later announced that the seepage, which occurred at the same site as the 2009 spill, had in fact likely begun in late 2012 or early 2013 and was occurring near several of CNRL’s steam injection sites. Five months after the spill was initially detected, emulsion continued to ooze from the sites at a rate of 2,000 litres per day.10

Eventually, information surfaced about the magnitude of the incident: nearly a million litres of bitumen mixed with water had leaked from the pipes.11

The AER initially reported the seepage to have been an estimated 4,450 litres. However, in September 2013, new figures released by the AER put the estimated amount at more than 1.5 million litres, or more than 9,600 barrels of oil, after other leaks were detected.12 The seepage prompted provincial investigations from the AER and Alberta’s Energy and Sustainable Resource Development, as well as a federal investigation from Environment Canada. In a report released in the spring, the AER blamed CNRL’s extraction method and concluded that excessive steaming was one of the causative factors in the leaks.13

Even more concerning, the spill appears to be ongoing: in 2016 the AER confirmed that the 2009 spill site “still experiences occasional seepages,” but it does not have information on how much oil has leaked as a result of the cumulative spills.14


2014 pipeline spills

In April 2014, 70,000 litres of oil and processed water spilled from a pipeline northwest of Slave Lake, Alberta.15

In late November 2014, the AER announced that a CNRL pipeline had spilled 60,000 litres of crude oil into a muskeg region in northern Alberta, located roughly 27 km from Red Earth Creek. An incident report by the regulator stated that according to CNRL, a mechanical failure was to blame for the spill.[/efn_note]



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About the database

The intent of the Corporate Mapping Project database is to engage Canadians in a conversation about the role of the fossil fuel sector in our democracy, by “mapping” how power and influence play out in the oil, gas and coal industries of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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  1. “Our History,” CNRL, accessed March 9th 2019,
  2. “Thermal In Situ Oil Sands,” CNRL, April 9th, 2019, Canadian Natural Resources (2018)
  3. Offshore staff, “CNR Steps Up Drilling in the North Sea, West Africa,” Offshore, March 1, 2018, Offshore Magazine (2018)

  4. Remy Melina, “Why Is Offshore Drilling So Dangerous?,” Live Science, May 28, 2010, Melina (2010)
  5. “Research Collaboration Improving Industry Performance,” CNRL, accessed March 5, 2019,
  6. Greenpeace Canada, “Greenpeace Canada Calls for Halt to CNRL Operations in Northern Alberta” (statement), January 10, 2014,
  7. Carol Linnitt, “Report: Cold Lake Bitumen Leak Mishandled by Energy Regulator,” Huffpost, September 20, 2013,
  8. Energy Resources Conservation Board, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. Primrose East Bitumen Emulsion Release: January 3, 2009: ERCB Investigation Report, January 8, 2013,
  9. Kevin Timoney and Peter Lee, CNRL’s Persistent 2013–2014 Bitumen Releases near Cold Lake, Alberta: Facts, Unanswered Questions, and Implications: Final Report, February 2014,
  10. Anna Mehler Paperny, “Five Months (and Counting) into CNRL Spill, Questions of Why More Wasn’t Done after 2009 Leak,” Global News, September 27, 2013,
  11. Bob Weber, “Environmentalists Raise Concerns over Possible Ongoing Leak in Alberta,” Global News, November 20, 2016,
  12. Carol Linnitt, “1.5M Litres and Rising: CNRL Tar Sands Seepage Volume Continues to Grow,” The Narwhal, September 19, 2013,

  13. Canadian Press, “Excessive Steaming a Factor in CNRL’s Primrose Leaks: Alberta Regulator,” Global News, March 21, 2016,
  14. Canadian Press, “Northern Alberta Oilfield’s Continuing Bitumen Seepage ‘Disturbing,’ Environmentalist Warns,” CBC News, November 20, 2016,
  15. Canadian Press, “Canadian Natural Resources Pipeline Leaks near Slave Lake,” CBC News, April 3, 2014,

  16. “North America Natural Gas,” CNRL, accessed April 9th 2019,
  17. Its domestic assets include a mix of natural gas, light crude oil, heavy crude oil, bitumen and synthetic crude oil in British Columbia (BC) and Alberta.17 Reuters, “How Canadian Natural Resources Beat Encana to Become Canada’s Top Natural Gas Producer,” Financial Post, July 18, 2016,
  18. Canadian Press, “Royal Dutch Shell Signs Deal to Sell Oilsands Assets,” CBC News, March 9, 2017,
  19. CNRL, 2017 Annual Report,
  20. CNRL, 2017 Annual Report.
  21. “Top 80 Canadian Companies by Reserves,” Oilweek, June 2018,
  22. “Top 100 Canadian Companies by Production,” Oilweek, June 2018,
  23. CNRL, 2017 Annual Report.