British Columbia

LNG dream dying in B.C.'s gas fields

With oil and gas prices slumping and no shovel-ready LNG projects, B.C's once booming gas patch has slowed to a virtual halt, with the highest unemployment rate in the province.

No LNG, few jobs, little hope

Gas drilling in northeastern B.C. is expected to ramp up dramatically, if Pacific NorthWest LNG proceeds.

With no LNG projects confirmed, British Columbia's once booming gas fields are now one of the worst places in the province to find work.

And while analysts have been closely watching Alberta's oil patch slump, few have noticed the collapse of B.C.'s gas patch — except those who are suffering the most. 

Don Loewen, a long-time contractor for the natural gas industry in northeastern B.C., has had to cut 48 people from his crew of 60 workers.

His experience is all too common.

'These guys will quit drilling entirely'

"If these LNG plants don't go — at least one of them — these guys will quit drilling entirely," said Loewen. "As it is, it's almost ground to a halt.

"All our employees are off looking elsewhere, but there really is nothing else. There is no work," said Loewen, whose company builds roads to gas leases.

It's very difficult to sleep at night.- Art Jarvis, Energy Services BC

Tamara Kemble's husband recently lost his electrician's job in Fort St. John.

Her family is now living on her husband's employment insurance benefits, while shelling out $1,000 a month for medical expenses that used to be covered by his benefits plan. 

'Tough not to be able to support your family'

"It's a huge hit to the ego," said Kemble. "It is tough not to be able to support your family. I just hope he can get a job."

Local official say things will become even more desperate when EI runs out for many in the summer.

Already, some unemployed workers have fallen on such tough times, they're turning to the Salvation Army in Fort St. John for Greyhound bus tickets home.

Captain Sheldon Feener hears from more and more men who travelled far from home to work in northeastern B.C.'s gas patch to support their families.  Now, they've lost their jobs, their temporary apartments and even their pick-up trucks.

'There's just nothing left'

"They'll come in and some of them are still dressed in their work gear," said Feener. "They're like, 'There's just nothing left, I've got no way to get home. I can't afford to spend the money on the bus ticket.'"

"These are very proud people who've worked very hard to provide for their families and are now stuck," said Feener, who's put workers on the Greyhound bus back home to B.C.'s Lower Mainland and Alberta.

"It's about as bad as it gets. Doom and gloom," said Art Jarvis, executive director of Energy Services BC, which speaks for 200 gas service companies

Jarvis owns a contracting company, too. But he's had to lay off 80 per cent of his workers, and the cuts are still coming.

"We're going through another round of layoffs. It hurts. It's very difficult to sleep at night when you know that there's families depending on you."

Jarvis doesn't expect anything will improve in 2016. And it could get worse. He says only a definitive announcement from Shell or Petronas/Progress Energy that an LNG project is moving ahead will restore confidence and jobs.

BC staked future on LNG 

Christy Clarke's B.C. Liberal government has staked the province's financial future on LNG and promised it would generate 100,000 jobs. 

But the jobless figure for northeastern B.C's gas producing region hit 8.5 per cent in January. 

In February, the number of people without jobs in that region rose to 9.2 per cent — despite the fact these months are traditionally the busiest and most profitable in B.C.'s gas patch. 

"Right now most of our eggs are in this basket," admitted Loewen, the gas field contractor. "This seems to be a global thing. We just feel we have absolutely no control over what's going to happen."


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.

Daybreak North


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