Fort McMurray councillors support oilsands camp moratorium

Councillors in Fort McMurray have voted to support a controversial moratorium on oilsands camps within the region after three days of "passionate" debate.

'We as councillors need to stand up for residents of the region'

Worker camp housing projects at the Suncor Firebag in-situ oil sands operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta, September 17, 2014. In 1967 Suncor helped pioneer the commercial development of Canada's oil sands, one of the largest petroleum resource basins in the world. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Councillors in Fort McMurray have voted to support a controversial moratorium on oilsands camps within the region after three days of "passionate" debate.

Council unanimously supported an amended motion Monday night that would deny permits for the renewal of existing camps and the approval of new camps within 75 kilometres of Fort McMurray.

The moratorium will not apply to camps inaccessible by road. The motion also excludes camps needed for construction and maintenance.

The moratorium would affect 61 camps and about 27,256 workers, the municipality said.

"This has been a very passionate debate," Coun. Mike Allen said. "And it has been polarizing as well."

Don Scott, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, proposed reducing the so-called 'fly-in fly-out' population and increase the number of locals living in Fort McMurray and rural hamlets in the region.

Originally, Scott pushed for a moratorium within 120 kilometres of Fort McMurray but said he was willing to compromise.

"We as councillors need to stand up for residents of the region," Scott said. "We all need a big wake up call in the region."

Municipal census results released this month show an overall population of 111,687 in the Wood Buffalo region in 2018, including 36,678 people in the shadow population — people who live in hotels, work camps or temporary accommodations for more than 30 days of the year.

On Thursday, administration said camps in the area can accommodate 32,246 workers and contribute $14.4 million annually in tax revenue.

Administration said it would need to increase its tax base by 12,000 new homes to replace the lost tax revenue from the 120-kilometre camp moratorium. It isn't clear what the tax loss would be for the amended motion.

Administration will now draft a bylaw limiting oilsands camps.

"It's not legally binding, what's passed tonight," Coun. Krista Balsom said before voting. "It will go to a public hearing."

​The motion directs administration to review agreements with oilsands companies, to work with industry to reduce fly-in fly-out, and increase use of the Fort McMurray airport instead of bypassing it and using isolated aerodromes.

It also calls on administration to report back to council by June on the progress on these items.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.


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