British Columbia

Gas industry downturn devastating Fort Nelson B.C.

The downturn in the gas sector is having devastating consequences in the northeastern B.C. town of Fort Nelson.

Job losses, layoffs and shuttered businesses crippling northeastern B.C. town

Fort Nelson, which sits on the Alaska Highway, is struggling through tough economic times due to the global meltdown in natural gas prices. (Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce)

The downturn in the gas sector is having devastating consequences in Fort Nelson, a town of about 4,000 in B.C.'s far northeast corner.

Bev Vandersteen of the Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce says over the last 18 months 200 people have lost jobs in the gas sector, while 50 local business have been forced to shut down, with many others suffering major layoffs.

She calls the town's economic situation the worst she's seen in 30 years.

People leaving, families forced to split up

"We are seeing people, particularly in the retail sector, who are now drawing on their reserves and drawing on their retirement funds in order to keep their business alive," said Vandersteen. "And we're seeing families splitting up because people are leaving town to work but their houses aren't selling."

The Fort Nelson area is rich in natural gas reserves but with the commodity price in the tank the industry has all but shutdown in the area.

The latest hit came last month when Endurance Energy Ltd. filed for bankruptcy, owing 236 million dollars to over 300 contractors, many of them local.

Waiting for LNG

Vandersteen says Fort Nelson survived a major downturn in forestry last decade because the gas sector was there to fall back on. But with both sectors struggling the situation is dire now.

She believes developing the area's tourist potential and diversifying the economy is part of the answer to the economic woes. She also hopes the forestry sector will pick up and says the LNG development promised by Premier Christy Clark can't come fast enough.

"Natural gas really is the best option for clean energy and we're sitting on the biggest reserves in Canada in the Horn River, the Liard and Cordova basins, she said. "I have to say about my fellow northerners they're the most resilient, hard-working, innovative people I know. But we need announcements, we need the future to move forward."

With files from George Baker and Daybreak North