Oil sands workers will be declared essential in Alberta as the province prepares a list of people who will continue to work if it is to step up its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ontario and Quebec closed all non-essential businesses on Monday in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Essential workplaces in these provinces include supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies, take-out and deliveries, hotels and hardware stores, liquor, beer and cannabis stores.
An Alberta government source, unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter, said his province would soon take similar action. The source said the list is being developed by an interdepartmental team made up of health, labor, energy and municipal affairs officials led by the Provincial Operations Center.
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage told The Globe and Mail in an email that the oil sands are strategically important to Alberta and Canada, and more information on their continued operation will be published in the next days.
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She said the health and safety of the thousands of workers across Canada who live in air sands oil sands camps in northern Alberta, usually for several consecutive weeks, will be at the center of the government’s concerns.
Workers live in camps in communities, sharing rooms, toilets and elbows in the dining rooms – conditions that make them ripe for a COVID-19 outbreak, experts say. But symptoms of the virus can be mild in the predominantly young and physically fit workforce in the sector.
The risk is that they may then be in contact with other more vulnerable people, such as the elderly or people with underlying conditions.
Last week, a worker from Borealis Lodge, about 22 kilometers north of Fort McMurray, was taken to hospital with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Civeo Corp., an American company that operates this camp and others in the oil sands, told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that the workers’ test was negative.
Savage said camp operators are currently working with Alberta health services to ensure proper operating standards, including changes in food service operations and transportation methods, and to ensure distance protocols appropriate social.
In the case of Civeo, the company said it means packaged food and reduced canteen hours, symptom screening for newcomers, controlled access to common areas, and a ban on anyone traveling abroad to access an establishment for 14 days after their return.
Oil sands producers continue to operate despite oil prices hit by falling demand due to contagion and a global oil price war waged by Saudi Arabia and Russia.
These market conditions have led North American oil companies to cut their investment budgets by more than US $ 20 billion to protect their bottom line.
Suncor Energy Inc. announced the latest massive downsizing, which announced Monday evening that it will cut spending by $ 1.5 billion this year. It also lowered its crude oil production forecast by 7%.
Multi-billion dollar government assistance for Canada’s energy industry, which is expected to come from Ottawa, could be in at least a week. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he would like to see federal funding for a program to clean up abandoned and inactive oil and gas wells, which would create jobs and reduce liabilities for businesses.
As the industry faces financial difficulties, Alberta’s Associate Natural Gas Minister Dale Nally saw his folio expanded Tuesday to include electricity.
The government said in a statement that the efficient operation of Alberta’s natural gas and electricity systems was essential to the province’s health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to the maintenance of vital economic activity.
Kenney said the move would allow Ms. Savage to focus on the “unprecedented challenges” facing Alberta’s largest industry.
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