Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ) plans to finish two major upgrades at its oil sands mining facilities this year that will lead to a corresponding production increase of about 33,600 bbl/d.

“The Horizon debottleneck project is nearing its end,” COO Scott Stauth said during CNQ’s Feb. 29 earnings call. “We have one more installation to tie-in during the turnaround in Q2, and that will essentially wrap up that project.”

The Horizon Oil Sands mining facility in Alberta currently produces about 250,000 bbl/d of bitumen, the raw material refined at the site.

“Turnarounds” are maintenance periods that temporarily shut down production to keep oil sands upgraders, which turn bitumen into crude, in working order. The Horizon facility will be shut down for about 30 days before the end of June with a temporary loss in production of about 89,000 bbl/d.

With the new upgrade, however, the facility will be able to skip a turnaround cycle, Stauth said, meaning production at the site next year will increase by about 28,000 bbl/d for all of 2025.

Another debottlenecking project at the AOSP oil sands facility, slated for completion in Alberta by the end of 2024, will add another 5,600 bbl/d in production.

Stauth said both projects would benefit from an operational Trans Mountain Pipeline, which will triple the west-bound capacity of crude from Alberta to the Canadian West Coast to 890,000 bbl/d. Pipeline builders most recently said the pipeline would start flowing sometime in the second quarter of 2024.

Canadian Natural Resources’ bitumen production rose in 2023 and hit an average of 262,000 bbl/d, a 10,000 bbl/d increase over 2022.

Overall for fourth quarter 2023, Canadian Natural reported better-than-expected earnings of CA$2.63 billion (US$1.94) of net earnings and raised its quarterly dividend by 5% to CA$1.05 per common share. Production volumes hit a quarterly record of 1.42 MMboe/d.

The company reached a net-debt goal of CA$10 billion earlier than targeted and plans to increase returns to shareholders. CFO Mark Stainthorpe said that financial stability has been a priority for the company and it’s paying off.

“We've hit our CA$10 billion,” Stainthorpe said. “We're focused on the 100% returns to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. And it's a pretty big milestone, and … the reason for it has been a very strong, safe, reliable operations over the last couple of years.”

Shares of the company rose with the news, hitting a record high of US$72.81 on March 1 with the release of the earnings report.