PRRD take steps to better track Worker Camps

Lynsey Kitching

 

It’s almost difficult to come across someone in the north that hasn’t spent time themselves or know someone who has lived in a worker’s camp. Be it for tree planting, mining, oil and gas, construction projects, the need to sometimes have temporary workers living in a camp is a reality. Another reality is the Peace Region has not been keeping tabs on the camps, and last year it came to light.

In June 2013, a report was release by the Peace Region Regional District (PRRD) titled, Policy, Communications and Capacity: A Time to Lead – Scoping the impact and benefits of work camps in the Peace Region.

This report clearly outlined the lack of communication and information sharing among agencies when it came to the permitting and use of camps in the region. From this, a workshop was hosted on Dec. 10, 2013, to support more effective data sharing. From this meeting, the report compiled by Heartwood Solutions Consulting &

W. Beamish Consulting Ltd. summarizes, “No single agency has a full understanding of work camps, including their locations, size, and impacts on local communities. It puts the region in a very compromised position to effectively regulate industrial work camps and to develop strategies to effectively anticipate and mitigate their impacts on the region.”

On top of this, the PRRD states there will be a “significant increase” in the number and size of work camps as a result of the growing interest and plans for new energy and resource projects in the region.

The report states, “We need to have an accurate count of transient workers, their locations, social impact assessment and plan for mitigating impacts in communities. Most government agencies lack the resources and the capacity necessary to monitor or inspect camp operations or to ensure compliance with the myriad government regulations or referrals from other agencies.”

Through the workshop with the agencies, it was decided that the PRRD and member municipalities have far reaching authority through zoning and building permits and can potentially reach and share key information with other agencies through related legislation.

Dr. Sean Markey, associate professor at Simon Frasier University says, “Company camps, open camps and third party camps report to various provincial agencies for approval and permitting of land tenures, buildings, infrastructure (water, sewer) and operations. This system is based on a 30-year-old model designed for long term forestry camps and is currently managing with a caveat to “build capacity and flexibility’ when necessary. Given the region is now dominated by widespread, short-term oil and gas operations, the development of a new regulatory system is required that can manage a high volume of worker camp applications for camps constantly changing their operational status.”

Dr. Markey mentioned in the report that the Peace Region is renowned for a strong regional dialogue and that this collaboration on interagency communication is just another example.

The main agencies currently involved in the worker camp applications are Agricultural Land Commission; BC Assessment; FrontCounter BC; Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations; City of Fort St. John; Ministry of Environment; Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure; Northern Health; GCOGC; PRRD; RCMP.

From the workshop, a type of framework was created to help bring some structure to the worker camp permitting process, and to enable better tracking and monitoring of the camps once established. The three central agencies suggested are FrontCounter BC, The Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) and the PRRD.

Companies would have to provide information such as the Lease Holder name; Type of Industrial Activity worker camp is for; location; size (footprint, headcount); commission date; anticipated term; active seasons; daily operations; main mode of transportation; approvals required and obtained; decommission date; copy of permit.

The PRRD felt one consistent format of data collection for all three key agencies would be most beneficial.

With this information, communication can then be made between agencies through e-referral forms, made available to the provincial and regional operational authorities, including municipalities.

Locally, Councillor Caisley is our councilman assigned to the PRRD as a board member and he feels this is a very important topic for the region to be looking at. He says, “It becomes that old topic we have been dealing with, with workers camps, how long should they house transient workers, is very apropos at the moment. I believe we can glean a lot of information from this report. There is a need for information sharing across the regulatory agencies, and to have a social impact assessment in plan for mitigating impact on communities. That is what we are hoping to be able to undertake and have that information available so we can zone in on what we are entitled to, what we aren’t entitled to, and try to eliminate the overall interpretation of whether transient workers really don’t have an impact, they have a tremendous impact, or anywhere in between.”

The next workshop surrounding getting some better data collection and management of worker camps in the PPRD will be held in February.