Despite the local oil boom that has come to the Peace Region, the money is not enough for Chuck Powell.
“You can’t make this kind of money in Dawson Creek,” he said. “I like Dawson Creek but I don’t like working there.”
That’s why he was in Slave Lake, Alta. on Thursday. In -31 C weather, Powell was sitting next to a pile of logs way out in the bush in three feet of snow, waiting to fix a D6R CAT bulldozer after the heating system quit.
He was one of hundreds of employees helping to build a pipeline from the Edmonton area to Slave Lake.
But Powell is not alone in this pursuit of the Albertan dollar.
“There’s people on both sides of the border going in both directions,” said Art Jarvis, the executive director of Energy Services B.C.
A heavy-duty mechanics like Powell can earn more in Alberta than he would locally.
“A contract in the Dawson Creek area would be around $500 per day,” he said. “Come out here, they’ll pay you $1,200 per day.”
In addition, he finds that work in Alberta is more consistent and plentiful, and that they tend to be more involved than the smaller repair work he can find in the Peace Region.
“The jobs are much bigger than around the Dawson Creek area,” he said.
Powell also believes that Alberta is more eager for oil and gas business, and that there are less regulatory restraints.
“Things are just a lot easier (in Alberta),” he said. “Here it seems we just go… they keep me busier.”
Powell also finds that the jobs back home are smaller, and that they tend to go more towards unionized employees.
Powell is not the only one to take this route.
Kevin Hanna, the president of the South Peace Oilmen’s Association, a social group of oil and gas workers in and around Dawson Creek, said that he has heard of certain workers making these long commutes.
“I think that some go to Grande Prairie and come back the other way,” he said. “Lot of them will fly in (to Albertan operations), then come back home after their shift.”
“(B.C. to Alberta workers) are typically going to Fort McMurray,” Art Jarvis, the executive director of Energy B.C. Services, added. “The oil companies (in Fort McMurray) haven’t reached the end of the projects.”
However, Jarvis and others have said that the majority of workers that do cross the border are Albertans coming in to work on Peace Region oil and gas operations.
Powell agreed. He said that the number of Albertans working in B.C. is likely due to the increased experience of Albertan workers, who have had more oil field experience and are willing to work cheaper than Peace Region workers.
“(Alberta oil companies) got the oil field down while Dawson Creek’s just starting.”
Jarvis added that he believed that Alberta remains a “more economical” place to set up shop for oil and gas sector companies, which can help Albertan firms gather more work.
“If you’re overhead is 20 per cent less (in Alberta), bid can be more attractive to producers,” he said.
These workers do not come without another cost to Peace Region residents, however. Jarvis said that these workers do not contribute to B.C. taxes, but they put a strain on local highways.
He pointed to a recent incident he witnessed while driving last Thursday, where the highway connecting the Peace Region to Alberta was loaded with drivers he believed were travelling between the two provinces.
“Traffic was backed up for four hours,” he added.
In addition to the inconvenience of drivers, employers were forced to pay overtime rates and had to have their product delivery delayed, Jarvis said.
Jarvis believed that more oil producers should hire local B.C. companies, and his organization, Energy Services B.C., often lobbies companies to do so. If this were done, he believed that municipalities could be made more attractive to workers.
“In order to entice people over here, it’s an ongoing battle,” he said. “If they’re not hiring locally, we can’t develop the municipality, we can’t compete with shopping and amenities.”
Working long distances can also put a strain on the workers family life. Powell admitted that this has caused him to become conflicted.
“Every day I have a fight whether to see if I could stay in (Alberta),” he said.
But Powell said that he would find it more difficult to try and squeeze in family time on 14-hour work shifts if he were to work locally.
“I want to come home and be dedicated to the family,” he said.
And people like Powell said he remains committed to his home despite the money he can find in Alberta.
A long-time resident of the community, his father, Bud Powell, was elected as a Dawson Creek city councillor, and he enjoys the people there.
“I love Dawson Creek,” he said.
Powell hoped to eventually move to Dawson Creek, and believed that he would eventually work there permanently. During the warmer months, he works to repair farm equipment in his shop in Farmington.
“There’s lots of things that go on (in Dawson Creek),” he said. “It’s going to be coming to the area.”
For now, though, he’ll remain in Alberta for the winter. Come spring, he’ll be back in the Peace, ready to spend time with his family when the weather is warmer.