Oil Sands

Oil Sands News: Canada’s Largest COVID-19 Workplace Outbreak

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Canada’s oil sands region is experiencing the worst COVID-19 outbreak per population for the whole of North America. In fact, tens of thousands of men, forced to live and work in closely confined areas, are at risk. The local government is accused of doing little to address warnings that people’s lives are at risk.1 Furthermore, news coverage is scant. We have provided an overview of what is going on.

COVID-19 and the oil sands news you may not have heard about

Canada’s worst COVID-19 outbreak is concentrated around the Fort McMurray region in Alberta province. This is the epicentre of the oil sands industry.2 The COVID-19 outbreak was first declared in October 2020. But cases began to surge in April after oil sands companies’ scheduled maintenance period began, according to Global News.3

In May 2021, a news organisation obtained internal records showing how the oil sands industry’s outbreak grew out of control as companies watched.4 But media coverage of the outbreak has been scant, as the region is remote and hard to access.

woman adding fuel to her car

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

The local governments’ response to the oil sands’ COVID-19 debacle

In May 2021, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in northeastern Alberta declared a state of emergency regarding its COVID-19 outbreak. Every year, tens of thousands of workers come to the region to work. Many agree that a health crisis was inevitable.

Rather than restrict work, the province’s premier, Jason Kenney, chose to focus on rolling out vaccines more quickly in the area.5 Labour leaders called for oil sands companies to shut down operations to get the outbreak under control, but their pleas went unheard. “This is a recipe for needless infection and needless deaths”, said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.6 

The oil sands industry is located in a region with lots of indigenous people and communities.7 Unsurprisingly, they are most worried about the impact it will have on their lives. One indigenous leader accused Alberta’s premier of “prioritising profits over lives” by allowing infected workers to come to the region from all over Canada and the world. Companies have responded by reducing the number of workers on site, and increasing testing and vaccines. But pleas to temporarily stop oil sands operations have largely gone unheard. Alberta’s politicians are more interested in the profit from oil sands than protecting lives, some locals say.8

Sources

  1. Global News. (n.d.). Alberta oil sands group starts offering on-site COVID-19 vaccines as CNRL confirms 2 deaths. [online] Available at: https://globalnews.ca/news/7839664/alberta-oil-sands-on-site-covid-19-vaccines-cnrl-deaths-union-shutdown/.
  2. Mertz, E. (2021). Alberta oil sands group starts offering on-site COVID-19 vaccines as CNRL confirms 2 deaths. [online] Global News. Available at: https://globalnews.ca/news/7839664/alberta-oil-sands-on-site-covid-19-vaccines-cnrl-deaths-union-shutdown/.
  3. Yourex-West, H. (2021). Inside the oilsands site that has seen Canada’s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreak. [online] Global News. Available at: https://globalnews.ca/news/7852937/oil-sands-site-canada-largest-workplace-covid-outbreak/ [Accessed 21 May 2021].
  4. globalnews.ca. (2021). Canada’s worst outbreak at Alberta oil sands site still getting worse | Watch News Videos Online. [online] Global News. Available at: https://globalnews.ca/video/7853734/canadas-worst-outbreak-at-alberta-oil-sands-site-still-getting-worse.
  5. Mertz, E. (2021). Alberta oil sands group starts offering on-site COVID-19 vaccines as CNRL confirms 2 deaths. [online] Global News. Available at: https://globalnews.ca/news/7839664/alberta-oil-sands-on-site-covid-19-vaccines-cnrl-deaths-union-shutdown/.
  6. Williams, N. (2021). Canada’s oil sands region becomes country’s COVID-19 hotspot. [online] Reuters. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/canadas-oil-sands-region-becomes-countrys-covid-19-hotspot-2021-04-30/ [Accessed 21 May 2021].
  7. Ienearth.org. (2019). Tar Sands [online] Indigenous Environmental Network.  Available at: https://www.ienearth.org/what-we-do/tar-sands/. ‌
  8. Williams, N. (2021). Canada’s oil sands region becomes country’s COVID-19 hotspot. [online] Reuters. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/canadas-oil-sands-region-becomes-countrys-covid-19-hotspot-2021-04-30/ [Accessed 21 May 2021].
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