Canadian Natural Resources Limited (TSX:CNQ)(NYSE:CNQ) is often hailed as one the safest picks in the energy patch, but some investors aren’t so sure if that’s still the case.

Let’s take a look at the company to see if it deserves to be a go-to name when oil starts to recover.

Asset diversification

CNRL probably owns the best overall energy portfolio in Canada. The company’s oil sands operations include the Horizon Oil Sands project, which has more than 14 billion barrels of reserves and is expected to hit a production capacity of 250,000 barrels per day with no declines over 40 years.

CNRL is also a significant producer of heavy oil, light oil, and natural gas liquids. A large part of the assets are in Alberta, but the company also has interests in other regions.

CNRL is one of Canada’s biggest natural gas producers and owns the largest undeveloped land base in gas-rich northeastern British Columbia. The B.C. assets are of particular interest because they fall in the promising Montney shale play.

Natural gas prices are in the dumps right now, and that is putting pressure on the gas side of the business, but the company looks well positioned to succeed in the long run because it utilizes its own infrastructure to transport its gas from the production site to the common carrier pipeline systems.

Outside of Canada, the company has promising interests in the North Sea and offshore Africa.

Cost controls

Management is very good at managing costs. During the second quarter, CNRL reduced its oil sands expenses by 20% and production costs dropped 25% in the offshore Africa operations compared with the same period last year.

Recently, the company announced plans to reduce salaries by 10%. This is important because it shows fiscal discipline and allows the company to keep highly skilled staff on the payroll while the market works its way through the slump.

Dividend concerns

CNRL surprised the market earlier this year when it raised the dividend. The move was minimal, but came at a time when most of the company’s peers were slashing their payouts.

Oil prices then rallied through the second quarter and investors expected good numbers, but the company reported a big Q2 loss of $579 million.

Cash flow from operations for the quarter came in at $1.5 billion. The company spent $1.3 billion on capital expenditures, so cash flow covered the costs of keeping the business running, but CNRL also handed out $503 million in dividends, which means it had to tap the credit line to cover $300 million of the payout.

Oil and natural gas prices have dropped since the end of Q2, so the Q3 results could come in a bit light. If cash flow really slides, the dividend could be in trouble.

Should you buy?

CNRL is a big company with a strong balance sheet, and the long-term prospects look good. Having said that, I would wait for the Q3 numbers to come out before buying the stock.

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Fool contributor Andrew Walker has no position in any stocks mentioned.