Alberta Oil Town Fights Man Camps in Effort To Boost Population

Fort McMurray, the remote Canadian town largely built by the oil-sands industry, is trying to limit the ability of those companies to fly in out-of-town workers.

The town that sits in the middle of the world's third-largest crude reserves is drafting a bylaw to limit the construction of temporary worker housing known as man camps, as it seeks to push producers to hire locally or have workers settle there. The aim is to boost population, local businesses, and housing prices in a place that endured the grim double whammy in 2016 of a devastating fire and plunging oil prices.

"We want more people living in this region and calling this home," Don Scott, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which encompasses the town, said in a phone interview. "It's going to give a lot more people in this region a lot more opportunity."

The region's councilors voted in favor of a motion to stop man camps within a 47-mile radius of town. Fort McMurray's fight against man camps is just the latest headache for producers who have had to deal with opposition to pipelines and a production curtailment imposed by Alberta to try to boost local crude prices.

Preventing producers from setting up new camps would only discourage investment further at a time when capital spending is set to decline for a fifth straight year, said Karim Zariffa, executive director of the Oil Sands Community Alliance, a local trade organization representing the industry.

"Any sort of moratorium imposed on industry is basically a moratorium on development, exasperating lack of investor confidence in the oil-sands sector," he said, adding that oil-sands companies are trying to attract people to live locally.

"This is a draft only and may never be approved, but there is a risk that it will (although timing and wording are uncertain) and if so, may affect 61 camps and 27,256 workers within the boundary," Kirk Wilson, an analyst with Beacon Securities, said.

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