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Erin Kathan is a fitness trainer and nutrition consultant who lives and works at the Noralta Lodge oilsands work camp near Fort McMurray. Photographed November Every welder, pipefitter and engineer has a mathematical equation. One side contains time and family; the other is money.
Some tinker with the formula for a year or two, leave and never return. Others keep coming back, year after year. Work camps are everywhere in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the 68, square kilometre region surrounding Fort McMurray and the Athabasca oilsands. The number of mobile workers is likely closer to 60,, officials suggest, since the census tally is based on a low season and camp capacity was recently estimated at 92, beds. Construction and overhaul takes more hands than operating a facility.
But the announcements of new projects, and new approvals keep coming. For decades, Fort McMurray absorbed incremental growth from fledgling Suncor and Syncrude operations. When those projects began turning profits 15 years ago, the community quickly edged toward its boundaries. Seventy per cent of incoming workers since have spilled into camps as new companies build farther from town.
More than ever before, mobile workers make the oilsands hum in hour segments, compressing months into weeks. McGregor keeps his ear to the ground for opportunities back in Shawnigan Lake, his home just north of Victoria, B. At least not so far. While the economy caught its breath between and , Angel conducted in-depth interviews of 16 of these men — including a year-old apprentice, a year-old father of two, a year union member on the cusp of retirement — along with industry professionals, mental health experts and addictions counsellors.
According to the census, more than half of the mobile workers are over 35, the majority of those over Half are in a common-law relationship or married, and a growing number — currently 17 per cent — are women. Angel herself is part of that workforce now, working as a health impact assessment practitioner to investigate how extraction affects housing, income, employment and education. She also advises companies about ways they can improve the lives of their mobile workers.