British Columbia

$40B LNG project cuts hundreds of workers to prevent COVID-19 spread in B.C. work camps

At least half of LNG Canada's workers are being sent home this week, as Canada's biggest infrastructure project seeks to prevent the spread of COVID. Other industrial mega projects, including Coastal GasLink and Site C, are starting to follow suit.

LNG Canada flying about 750 workers home from work camps in Kitimat

Poverty advocates in Kitimat, B.C., say rental prices in Kitimat are skyrocketing because of the region's booming resource economy. (CBC )

The biggest private investment infrastructure project in Canadian history is slashing staff as it tries to prevent COVID-19 infections from getting a foothold in workers' camps in northwestern B.C. 

LNG Canada says it's sending home half of its work force from the company's $40-billion export facility project in Kitimat, B.C.

The company's move to lay off about 750 people and fly them home across the country is being done out of an "abundance of caution," said Susannah Pierce, the company's director of corporate affairs.

It's just one of several mega-projects in the province trying to manage the safety of up to more than a thousand industrial workers living in close quarters far from home. 

An industrial work camp is seen with modular temporary rows of buildings.
Crossroads Lodge, a worker accommodation facility in Kitimat, B.C., was built to house more than 600 workers from LNG Canada's project. (Matt Allen/CBC)

Pierce added there could be further work force reductions, reducing staff to "critical levels" with only essential workers staying on to conduct site security and do environmental monitoring. 

After federal and provincial officials banned large gatherings, some workers and local officials raised concerns about the large numbers of people living in close quarters in worker accommodations. 

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LNG Canada said it can't confirm exactly how many people are working and living in the project's three work camps, but Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth told CBC News approximately 1,500 workers are on site. 

Could be cut to just essential workers

"We're concerned, like anyone, but it's not a panic situation," Germuth said the day before LNG Canada announced its workforce cuts.

He believes the camp's preventative measures are adequate.

"Everyone is doing their best to make things as smooth as possible and hope for the best. But it can change in minutes," he said.

Workers who fly in from across the country have been living, exercising and eating together in the hotel-like camps that feature a movie theater, gymnasiums and round-the-clock cafeterias.

A worker fixes a fence near the proposed LNG site in Kitimat B.C., in this file photo from 2018. (CBC)

Prior to Monday night's announcement, LNG Canada said it was working closely with Northern Health to reduce the COVID-19 risks there.

The company said worker facilities had instituted extra sanitizing, compulsory hand washing and limitations on the number of workers that could enter the dining room at one time.

Now, many of those workers are headed home.

For those that remain, LNG Canada says anyone with COVID-19 symptoms will be treated in onsite health facilities and may be quarantined in the camp.  

Camps can isolate workers if needed

Coastal GasLink, the company building the $6.6 billion pipeline that will feed LNG Canada, is also reducing staff. 

Company officials say their work traditionally slows at this time of year, during spring break-up, but now COVID-19 concerns are also in the mix.

They say they will draw on mostly local workers, in small crews working over large areas, to complete essential work. 

In February, 1,100 people were on the job clearing a route for a pipeline across northern B.C., and many were living in worker accommodation camps.

Coastal GasLink said medics are monitoring its workers and privately contracted medical experts are on standby. 

Site C camp still open 

Meanwhile, in the northeastern part of the province, approximately 1,000 workers have been living in camp at BC Hydro's Site C construction project. 

Site C spokesperson Dave Conway said on Monday that the Two Rivers Lodge near Fort St. John had closed its gym and theatre and was doubling down on sanitation practices.

Conway said the lodge has its own health-care staff, facilities and equipment — including test kits and medical supplies.

Worker accomodation for BC Hydro's Site C project was built to accomodate more than 2,000 workers in the Fort St John area. (BC Hydro)

"The camp has the ability to comfortably isolate any workers who are awaiting test results or who may test positive for COVID-19," Conway said earlier this week. 

Wednesday afternoon, in a written statement, BC Hydro said the project would only continue with essential work to help reduce the number of workers staying at the worker accommodation lodge.

According to BC Hydro, 4,330 workers were employed at the northern mega-project in December 2019 — most from out of town.


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.