Tar sands/oil sands producers and elected councillors in Fort McMurray got into a heated debate earlier this week over a proposal to move more of the work force out of the “man camps” surrounding the community.
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott “has taken a hard line on oilsands camps because he wants to reduce the so-called fly-in/fly-out population and increase the number of locals living in Fort McMurray and its rural hamlets,” CBC reports. “Non-permanent residents need to move out of isolated camps and into town, the mayor has said. The change would lower the vacancy rate in Fort McMurray, restore home values, and help local small businesses, Scott argues.”
But in-situ tar sands/oil sands company MEG Energy had other ideas, in one of seven presentations to councillors. MEG “relies on camps to house its workers,” CBC states, and Community Relations Manager Rory O’Connor “argued it would be too expensive and unsafe to bus workers to its sites, or have workers drive in from Fort McMurray when they work 12-hour shifts.”
While the company would be open to discussions about reducing fly-in/fly-out operations, O’Connor said a full moratorium on work camps might force MEG Energy and other companies to “relocate their workers to the nearby community of Lac La Biche, which has a more friendly oilsands camp policy,” CBC notes.
“Is it time for a fresh check and to open that discussion? Then perhaps,” O’Connor said. “”But a moratorium on camps will not allow MEG and our current business model to survive.”
The debate broke into the open Tuesday evening, with so many spectators on the scene that the municipal chamber was packed and overflow rooms were standing room only. “Scott, a defence lawyer, grilled industry and camp managers Tuesday who showed up to speak against his motion,” CBC reports, prompting the meeting’s chair, Councillor Keith McGrath, to object to his line of questioning.
“Just a point of order, guys,” McGrath said, in an interruption of .Scott’s questioning. “This is turning into a courtroom rather than a debate. I don’t like this friction that’s being displayed here this evening.”
“I think the industry is pretty good at protecting themselves,” Scott shot back. “I’m tired of the friction that’s being displayed in this region when industry is using camps as such a tool, when this region is suffering. That should be a priority for everyone in this council and everyone in this region, quite frankly.”