This year was already expected to be a transformational one for Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE:CNQ) because it's putting the finishing touches on the expansion of its Horizon oil sands facility. However, the company supercharged that transformation after spending 12.74 billion Canadian dollars to buy a 70% stake in the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP) from Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A)(NYSE:RDS.B) and Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO). As a result of these strategic initiatives, Canadian Natural Resources is on pace to deliver 15.6% compound annual production growth through 2019. However, given its vast low-cost resources base, the company has ample opportunities to continue expanding. Here's a look at its three biggest growth options. 

Natural gas projects

While Canadian Natural Resources has focused most of its recent investments on expanding oil output, the company is Canada's largest gas producer. Last quarter, it produced nearly 1.6 Bcf of gas per day. However, it has substantial untapped upside thanks to its significant acreage position in the Deep Basin and Montney gas plays. Overall, the company can expand production by as much as 6 Bcf per day in the future, with projects that can deliver a minimum 15% after-tax return at $3.50 gas.

A pump jack at an oil well in Southern Alberta.

Image source: Getty Images.

That said, the company needs an outlet for all that output, which won't come until the country starts exporting LNG. Unfortunately, that appears to be at least several years away since none of the proposed projects are under construction. However, at least one project seems close to moving forward after Shell voiced its support for the LNG Canada project, choosing that plan over its now-mothballed Prince Rupert LNG project. 

Thermal in situ oil sands projects

Driving Canadian Natural Resources' oil growth boom has been a focus on building and buying low-decline oil sands mining assets. However, its next phase of oil growth will likely come from in situ projects, which is a process of using steam to produce bitumen through a wellbore. The company already has one major project underway after restarting its deferred Kirby North project, which should start flowing oil in early 2020. 

In addition to that, the company also has several other projects in development, including future expansions at Primrose and Wolf Lake. Overall, the company estimates it has the resources to increase production by 450,000 barrel per day in the future, which is substantial growth potential for a company that should produce 1.1 million BOE/D this year. While some of that production is economic at oil prices as low as $45 per barrel, others need oil above $70 before they meet the company's return threshold.

Rural landscape of Alberta, Canada with a pump jack in a field.

Image source: Getty Images.

Expanding AOSP

The company's acquisition of a majority stake in AOSP will not only significantly increase production in the near term, but it also came with several long-term growth options. For example, the company already has regulatory approval to expand the Jackpine mine's output from 126,000 barrels per day to 226,000 barrels per day. In addition, there's the potential for a 120,000 barrel per day expansion of the Muskeg River Mine.

Meanwhile, Canadian Natural Resources also picked up several oil sands leases, including Pierre River. Shell had initially planned to build a 200,000 barrel per day production facility on that lease, but it shelved that project in 2015 to concentrate on boosting profitability at other mines. At the time, the company said Pierre River remained a very long-term opportunity. However, that opportunity is now Canadian Natural Resources' for the taking.

Investor takeaway

Through a combination of organic expansion and acquisitions, Canadian Natural Resources will grow into an elite oil company this year given the expectations that it'll produce an average of more than 1 million BOE/D. However, it still has a bounty of expansion opportunities ahead of it, many of which are profitable at current oil prices. Because of that, Canadian Natural Resources has the potential to continue growing at a healthy clip for years to come, making it an excellent oil growth stock to consider owning for the long term.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.