Skip to comments.Work-camp population booms along with Alberta oilsands
Posted on 03/26/2012 1:52:53 PM PDT by thackney
The work-camp population in northeastern Alberta is set to grow again, possibly by as much as 30 per cent, as the oilsands boom ramps up in the Fort McMurray area.
Applications for another 48 work camps with a total of 17,000 beds are in the queue for provincial permits, mostly in the northeast, though not every application will necessarily be approved by the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, which regulates use of public lands, says spokesman Duncan MacDonnell.
Currently, there are 53,500 beds available in dozens of camps. Of those, about 35,200 are at operating oilsands projects and 18,300 are at open camps run by independent contractors, MacDonnell added.
The actual number of workers living in camps, either construction camps or operating camps, varies from year to year, depending on the stage of work on each project. Currently, the work-camp population is pegged at about 31,000 by the Oilsands Developers Group, the industry association of oil companies. Others, including Fort McMurray, say the figure is higher, possibly more than 40,000.
The fly-in workforce grew in recent years when Imperial Oils Kearl mining site north of Fort McMurray near Fort MacKay began to fly workers directly from cities inside and outside the province.
The work-camp population shrank to about 23,000 in 2010 after the economic downturn hit and slowed oilsands construction projects but increased to more than 30,000 recently with further expansion underway.
Work camps are a necessary alternative right now, says Ken Chapman, spokesman for the oilsands developers in Fort McMurray.
The commuting time from Fort McMurray to new projects is getting too long to be practical, he noted.
As well, housing in Fort McMurray is scarce and expensive, he added. Companies have to provide cheaper accommodation to attract workers.
The urban service area of Fort McMurray, with a population of 77,000, according to the municipal census, is keeping a careful eye on the growth of work camps, says Michael Evans, the communitys executive director of stakeholder relations.
While Fort McMurray understands the need for work camps, it would also like to see the mobile camp population, especially construction workers, stabilize at the 2010 level of about 23,000 people in camps, said Evans,
But the municipality says the camp population has grown well beyond that now to 33,000- 40,000 or more, depending on which figures are used.
We want to encourage people to become permanent residents, he said. We want people to take root with their families and not just have the working man who flies in three weeks out of four and leaves.
Last summer, Fort McMurray wasnt convinced the official camp count was reliable. We had this feeling that 25,000 was low, he said.
So it decided to do its own count and sent out two planners in a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a GPS to check each site, said Evans
In addition to the approved camps, they found 26 camps without permits, said Evans. Some were small, seasonal camps and others were larger with a total bed count of 12,000. That was a bit of a shock.
Meanwhile, the Oilsands Sustainable Development Secretariat, a provincial agency that oversees growth issues in the northeast, wants to work on a broad review of work camps. Sustainable Resources and the Environment Department regulate the camps.
With proposals for 48 new camp permits and 17,000 new beds, the camps could get too scattered, said Gary Haynes, the secretariats director of community and regional planning.
We need to have a more planned way to look at it.
It becomes difficult to serve remote camps, especially when they are too scattered, said Haynes. That includes, for instance, being able to provide fire protection or evacuate workers if a fire breaks out, he said.
Given the long hours that most workers put in 10-12 hours a day the ideal commuting time is half an hour, for safety reasons, says Haynes, but the companies dont all agree.
Two new towns are proposed in the areas 2010 growth plan, the Comprehensive Regional Infrastructure Sustainability Plan. But its not clear when either would be built, says Haynes.
The timing would depend on when the pace of growth, the giant mining projects that would drive the need, he said.
One of the designated sites is 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray near Fort MacKay, and a second, called a work camp community, is pegged for the south near Conklin.
The comprehensive plan encourages population growth in Fort McMurray rather than work camps.
Population growth will be directed away from traditional work camps and toward existing communities, a new urban growth node north of Fort MacKay and a planning work community south of Conklin, the plan says.
Last month, the province opened another 250 hectares previously on the campus of Keyano College in Fort McMurray for new housing.
Evans noted there are 17 private airports in the region, raising questions about how much the fly-in workforce benefits the province.
Clearly, the oilsand is a national unity project, says Evans. People from across Canada benefit by getting high-paying jobs in the oilsands.
But that mobile workforce moving in and out every month doesnt fully benefit the province because many workers dont pay taxes here, he said.
No one knows how much of the camp population resides elsewhere, including British Columbia, Ontario and the Maritimes, said Evans.
Fort McMurray itself has a large mobile population people who work in the area and drive home every weekend to Alberta towns and cities.
Wed like them to stay, said Evans. But that means opening up more land for housing to keep costs from rising.
“It’s good to be Alberta Bound.”
The tradespeople who work at Ft Mac often make 300 grand a year, provided they are willing to work the brutal hours and never go home.
Is there a contact for submitting one’s resume?
Look up Fort Macmurray jobs on Google.
You could also look up companies like Syncrude and Shell refineries in Canada.
But please stop at the Spruce Grove petro-Canada gas bar on your way up and say hi.