Encana work camp near Dawson Creek halved in size, opening delayed

Encana originally estimated the camp to house workers on its projects in the Montney play could grow as large as 2,500; in December Encana said it would spend hundreds of millions this year on upstream development in the area

Encana has halved its population projection for a large worker camp outside of Dawson Creek that was originally slated to house 2,500 people.

Encana spokesperson Doug McIntyre confirmed Thursday that population estimates for its Sunset Prairie Worker Lodge, located around 55 kilometers outside Dawson Creek, have come down significantly.

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"With the current pace of development, we anticipate that the lodge could accommodate up to 1,250 workers over the next few years," he wrote in an email. "The size of the lodge and construction timeline continues to evolve and is impacted by global market

Encana is building the temporary camp to house workers on its projects in the Montney play.

While the number was never set in stone, Encana originally estimated the camp could grow as large as 2,500.

The people slated to live in the camp will be primarily construction workers building "large [gas] compressor sites" south of the Peace River, spokesperson Brian Lieverse said.

Lieverse said the 2,500 estimate was always on the "high side."

"We wanted to make sure we were on the high side because it's easier to scale down than it is to scale up," he said. "Instead of saying we're going to do a 1,200 man camp and come back later and say 'oh we need 1,800.'"

The camp would employ between 15 and 25 full-time staff, according to an Encana release.

On Jan. 13, Lieverse said the camp will likely open some time between March and May — later than anticipated.

That's in part due to planning delays, and the camp is still under construction, Lieverse said.

On site are "40-some [prefabricated] units that are part of the kitchen," while crews were working to mount dormitory units on pilings.

"We've just stretched out the timelines a little bit. It's not a major hold up," he said.

Late last year, Encana announced it was selling around $412 million worth of natural gas gathering and compression assets to Veresen Midstream ahead of a major reinvestment upstream in the Montney. 

The sale involves around 500 kilometers of pipeline and seven gas compression stations ahead of a major reinvestment in the Montney.

McIntyre said at the time that the sale of the midstream assets would allow Encana to reinvest upstream in the Montney — in the actual extraction of gas from theground. 

"It frees us up to redirect our capital into our core business, which is upstream production," he said. "Otherwise, that capital would have been required to build that sort of
infrastructure in the Montney over the next five years." 

Veresen plans to invest around $5 billion in midstream facilities "to support development within the Montney," according to a release.

Earlier, the company confirmed that Encana workers would continue to operate facilities sold to Veresen, and that job losses were not projected.

The bulk of the workforce slated for the camp is not currently in Dawson Creek, Lieverse said. For now, workers on Encana projects in the area are largely staying in hotels.

Dawson Creek and District Chamber of Commerce director Kathleen Connolly said that's good news for local hotel operators.

"They're all full, and lots of them are full of Encana guys," she said.

Worker camps have been a touchy subject for local businesses, who worry they move people (and dollars) outside city limits.

Connolly said previously that many business believe they're at a disadvantage when it comes to bidding on worker camp contracts.

The chamber advocated for stricter buy-local rules at a B.C. Chamber meeting last year.

Encana has argued that camps cut down on traffic, reducing pollution and safety

Even at a reduced size, the camp would likely be one of the largest in the Peace, though firm numbers on worker camps are hard to come by.

The camp slated to be built for workers on the recently approved Site C dam, for example, was tendered for "a total capacity of 2,200, if required."                          


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