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From the monthly archives: January 2011
Northern Opportunities: A Pretty Good Deal
Ryan Gilmore was frustrated with high school and considered dropping out. Then he learned of the dual credit programs offered by the Northern Opportunities… [read more]
Open to Everyone
Nicole Schartner says she is glad to be in the Power Engineering program at GPRC (Grande Prairie Regional College) Fairview Campus not only because she… [read more]
Fort St. John: Energized & Ready to Roll
Priding itself on being a family friendly community, Fort St. John still manages to find plenty of room for industry and business. “There’s tons… [read more]
Education Expands its Role
With an increased labour shortage looming, governments and educators in the West are scrambling to find measures to offset what could be, and in some cases… [read more]
Questor Technology has found a solution to a myriad of problems with an innovative look at a common industry practice and while their current waste gas incinerators are hugely successful, the company is continuing to evolve the technology to make it even more environmentally sound and financially worthwhile.
Almost everyone who has been in this region for more than a few weeks has seen a flare going off. And those who live intimately with flaring have concerns from several points of view: the public who are concerned with safety, and the companies that are concerned with costs. And it is to flaring that Questor has focused their sights.
“We’re an oilfield service company focused on environmental solutions for flared gas. Our focus is not only combusting them and handling them safely and effectively, we see a big opportunity to do something useful with the heat,” said Questor president and CEO Audrey Mascarenhas.
The Company’s proprietary incinerator technology destroys noxious or toxic hydrocarbon gases, which ensures regulatory compliance, environmental protection, public confidence and reduced operating costs for clients. And all that before mentioning the potential benefits of their current research projects.
People are accustomed to flaring, said Mascarenhas, and they recognize the rules allow them to do that and often see it as the easiest thing to do but really, it’s actually costing them more money sometimes to flare. Having to pull energy off the grid or good gas off to heat buildings and then you’ve got this stream of flared gas that’s being wasted, the energy going up, and unhappy communities to boot. Globally, 14 billion cubic feet a day – all of Canada’s gas production – is flared, and all of it wasted energy with negative environmental impacts. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Billions are being invested in ways to reduce industry’s carbon footprint and “we’re missing this low hanging fruit”, said Mascarenhas.
Questor’s incinerators run at 80 per cent less fuel than a flare, return on investment on some units is as little as four months, there’s no visibility, they guarantee 99.99 per cent efficiency so no one’s worried about safety or odour.
Questor’s Grande Prairie facility, which was initially opened as a service centre, is now home to most of their research and development testing and assembly and the results of that work are being recognized not only locally but also internationally.
People have been trying to find ways to do the “right thing on the emissions side of things” but there are costs both environmentally and financially to their approach, explained Mascarenhas.
“They create a whole bunch of water that’s contaminated with hydrocarbons, and they’ve still got some gas they’ve got to deal with,” she explained. “Everyone focuses on the gas and then forgets that if you’re trucking that water you’re spending a lot of money to truck it out to a disposal facility, which releases a whole bunch of greenhouse gas emissions, plus that water’s out of the ecosystem because you’re injecting it into the ground.”
Questor is looking at a different idea. Instead of flaring they incinerate and pick up the heat and using it to vapourize the water, resulting in numerous benefits. First, the cost of trucking water would be reduced and with it, wear and tear on transportation infrastructure, reductions in vehicle emissions and other costs currently accepted as part of the package.
And in this region, a more pressing advantage is that it frees up water that can then be used for fraccing which otherwise, would simply be pumped back into the ground, unusable.
“We’re in conversation with one of the large engineering companies up there…One of the things that everyone’s been struggling with is the fact that it’s (the water) got methanol in it, and how do you separate the methanol from the water. One of the ideas we think would have a lot of application there is to vapourize it and then condense the water and you’ve got clean water again.”
And then there’s the issue of the heat itself. Questor is also looking at ways to turn that into an opportunity as well.
“We see an opportunity to take this wasted gas that’s being flared, take the heat and either use it for heating buildings or heat tracing, or use it if you have enough energy to power that site so that you’re not pulling power off the grid,” explained Mascarenhas.
She also has other ideas that reach into the communities themselves. One such is to take the heat and send it into a greenhouse that could be used to grow food for the food bank. It is really about being better, more considerate neigbhours when you get right down to it. Flaring might be accepted as the way it’s always been done but that hasn’t made it any more popular with those that live with it.
Currently Questor has clients such as Devon, Spectra Energy, Encana, Shell, Talisman, Nexen, Exxon / Mobil, Shell, TransCanada Pipelines, Vacquero, and Dominion Exploration, to name only a few and has 100 units across BC and Alberta.
While the Company’s current client base is primarily in the oil and gas industry, this technology is applicable to other industries such as water and sewage treatment, landfills, tire recycling and agriculture.
“As we all look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, working with wasted gas that’s being flared right now is a great opportunity to do that and a very cost effective way,” said Mascarenhas.
“When you look at how much gas is being flared not only in Canada but all over the world, it’s a big opportunity to not only be more energy efficient but to have an impact on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Ideas, like money or equipment, are assets.
If you get that one in a million idea, the next logical step is to determine if you need to protect your intellectual property (IP). IP is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which property rights are recognized. It is imagination made real and under IP law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. The most prevalent types of intellectual property include patents, trademarks and copyrights.
A patent is a legal document issued by the government that gives the holder proprietary rights for 20 years, and is granted for products or processes that are new, useful and not obvious. A patent also covers any new and useful improvement of an existing invention. Patent protection applies only within the country that issues the patent plus, when you file for protection in Canada, you have only 12 months to file for protection in other countries. But before you rush out and start applying, patents aren’t cheap (anywhere from $4,000 – $6,000 just for a Canadian patent) so you need to be sure that the potential financial benefits are worth the effort, cost and risk.
A trade-mark, on the other hand, promotes and identifies different brands or services and is registered with the government to protect the words, names, symbols, devices and images that you use to represent your product, goods or service. It’s all about standing out in the marketplace. When you register your trade-mark you receive the exclusive right to use the mark across Canada for 15 years and your registration is renewable every 15 years after that.
Copyright is different again. Canadian copyright law is governed by the Copyright Act, which protects original literary, artistic, musical and dramatic works. One very significant right granted to the copyright owner, is the exclusive right to reproduce the work, (or any substantial part of the work). Copyright comes into existence automatically, at the time the work is created, and, in most cases, continues until the end of the calendar year in which the author of the work dies – plus an additional period of 50 years.
There are some notable exceptions however. To put it simply, if someone invented an improved car tire that never went flat, they could patent the improved process. They could also trade-mark register the brand name of that invention, ‘The Tireless Tire’. Then they could copyright the instruction manual that they wrote to explain how to take care of a ‘Tireless Tire.
Like filing your tax return, you can go through the process of protecting your intellectual property on your own. There are numerous books on the subject and you can find guidelines and all the forms you need at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s website, www.cipo.ic.gc.ca.
However, you may decide to seek professional help. After all, just like hiring an accountant for your taxes, you can benefit from their expertise and insight in the field. Either way, remember the Centre for Research & Innovation is your first point of contact.
For more information on this article, or to contact The Centre for Research & Innovation call (780) 539-2807, toll free at 1-877-539-2808, email info@TheCRI.ca or visit our website at www.TheCRI.ca .
Holistic: We are used to hearing this word associated with naturopathic medicine, health food stores and yoga, but you probably aren’t aware how aptly this word applies to safety in the workplace as well.
The definition of holistic is emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.
Physical safety is very objective and tends to be the focus of our analysis when designing safety programs. However, if we don’t recognize how emotions affect behavior, we are creating huge opportunities for human error.
We need to incorporate a holistic approach towards safety in the workplace by taking into consideration how a person’s emotional state can affect their ability to concentrate and perform well on the job.
Considering a person’s emotional wellbeing can be a tricky subject. It’s an area that most of us avoid as much as possible as it often brings more than we bargained for! It is a lot easier to leave that messy stuff to counselors, and just deal with the straightforward issues that we understand and have some control over.
People’s emotions are an integral part of their personal lives and self worth, which is why it can be so intimidating for an employer or supervisor to go there. I am not suggesting that we need to become counselors, or to be the answer for an employees’ emotional wellbeing. We just need to be aware of this dynamic in regards to safety and to build this awareness into our safety culture.
Outer controls are good and necessary but do not deal with the inner person where human error springs from.
We should all be familiar with the phrase ‘the root cause’ when it comes to accident reports. If not, it simply means the origin of the problem; identifying the root cause of the problem, rather than simply addressing the symptoms.
The first question that the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety suggests when reviewing an accident is, “Was the worker distracted? If yes, why was the worker distracted?”
As a long-standing employer, I am still amazed how often the root cause of incidents and accidents are caused by emotional distress. Anger, fear, sadness, pain, depression and insecurity are some common negative emotions. How do these tie in to safety? Our emotions demand our attention, which causes us to lose focus on our work.
If we are angry, we are thinking about what is making us angry, instead of the task at hand. We also tend to move more aggressively then we normally would and our ability to be aware of danger is reduced.
Fear causes us to react unnaturally to situations – we often become paralyzed in our thinking, or we overreact in our behavior.
Sadness or emotional pain of any kind can lead to substance abuse, where a person will go to any lengths to alleviate the pain they are feeling.
Insecurity stops people from asking questions, making good judgment calls in situations where confidence is called for, and being able to say no when asked to do something they don’t feel is safe.
As employers, we need to learn to recognize when negative emotions are affecting our employees at work, and to have protocols in place that limit the risks in these situations. Often, feeling understood and supported may very well be the only remedy your worker needs to get back to their job feeling settled and focused.
If the troubled employee refuses to acknowledge that there is an issue, or is not comfortable talking to you, perhaps there is another supervisor or co-worker they respect whom they would be able to open up to.
If you suspect that your employee is going to be a danger to themselves or others, or is plagued by constant and debilitating emotional stress, you are in a position of responsibility towards that employee. It is much better to be proactive and plan ahead for these situations than turn a blind eye and just hope for the best.
It is important as employers that we provide a safe workplace that recognizes and values the whole person, not just physical safety.
Google successful companies (including Google itself!), and you will find that their success is attributed in a large part to the lengths they go to incorporate a culture that embraces the whole person. They address emotional needs before they become problems.
Happy, fulfilled and inspired people make the safest and most productive workers.
There are many resources available for helping people who are experiencing emotional distress, besides just a listening ear. Counselors, doctors, recovery centers and even chaplains are increasingly being called upon in the workplace to help equip employees with life skills they are lacking.
If you or your supervisors are not naturally empathetic, or don’t feel comfortable discussing emotional issues, there are many types of workshops and books on this subject. Understanding emotional responses and knowing how to diffuse them are critical skills and can be learned.
The holistic approach to safety does not replace our current safety programs, it simply expands them to include an awareness of what is often at the root of safety issues in the workplace – our emotional well being.
David Phibbs is the president of Alpha Safety Ltd. and Alpha Training Solutions.
For more information on this article or their services, contact 1-888-413-3477, 250-787-9315 or www.alphasafety.net.
The recent government shake-ups have caused some concern that climate action initiatives, the legacy of Premier Gordon Campbell, could be at risk, there is cause for optimism.
BC Sustainable Energy’s Peter Ronald expressed some of those concerns in his Nov. 24 blog, and he hasn’t been the only one asking the question of how the shuffle of the energy and forestry ministries, and the change in premier and other important government personalities will affect climate action initiatives.
“Individual personalities are often extremely important in shaping government policy…,” Ronald said in his blog.
“Premier Campbell…has, amidst other priorities and initiatives, put action on climate change at the centre of much of his public policy efforts.
The carbon tax, greenhouse gas emission targets and clean energy agenda of this government reflect this commitment.”
And as he points out, no one knows who the province’s new leader will be or what stance that individual will take in regard to climate action. The advent of that new leadership has prompted the BCSEA to start now to ask the tough questions of all the potential candidates to determine their opinions about the issue and urgency of addressing climate action, said Ronald.
While “so far, they haven’t given us much to go on,” he also added that a recent meeting with Minister of Natural Resource Operations Steve Thompson, and knowing the views of some of the other resource sector ministers, allow him to “feel comfortable that Premier Campbell’s legacy…will live on beyond his term”.
Minister of State for Climate Action John Yap tended to agree. “I expect that taking action on climate change will continue to be an important part of our agenda,” he said.
He also noted that the shuffle of resources ministries held the intent of better managing the province’s resource sector applications and gave the example of providing improved predictability for industry.
As strongly supported as sustainability is within the general public of the Peace, Ronald remains cognizant of the power of the oil and gas industry and compares the sustainable energy projects coming out of this region as “a drop-in-the-bucket against the oil and gas agenda of the present government”.
The amounts of money invested in sustainability initiatives, for example, is a “pittance” said Ronald, when compared to the government subsidies to the oil and gas sector, and that in a climate favourable to sustainability under Premier Campbell’s leadership. There is no ‘gravy train’ that current or future premiers are likely to throw at renewable energy, he adds.
“The Liberal Government will always have an ear for the business sector, and that’s certainly appropriate, but ‘sustainability’ requires that a balance be sought among social, environmental and economic priorities,” said Ronald.
On the issue of carbon offsets, a potentially costly proposition for industry, Yap said that the process is ongoing and that it must “work for BC”. He clarified that Cap and Trade has always meant putting a price on carbon but added that “at the end of the day it has to work for industry”, lending support to Ronald’s contention that the power of industry is alive and well and impacting the decisions of government.
Even though candidates are likely to take the position they see as most likely to get them elected, said Ronald, that position could as easily be against sustainability as for it. Governments are mercurial by nature and tilt at a change of the wind. Despite that, there is cause for some optimism.
Even the leadership contest gives a false sense of authority of a single person, said Ronald, and that may be one of the balancing factors at the end of the day.
“We all see that there is climate change, and that there’s an opportunity to take action and taking action is part of mitigating the impact on climate change but also provides economic opportunities…I look at this as economic opportunity that climate change is providing,” said Yap.
“All of these (specific actions) tie into taking action, on climate as a government so a government is made up of not just the premier but a government that takes action as a whole.” Economic opportunities however, are often more closely aligned with industry priorities than with environmental ones.
The BCSEA among others will be watching to see how the wind blows with the most recent government changes and have promised to keep the issues of sustainability and the green agenda in the awareness of whoever is in power in hopes that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
While experts say 2010 was a good year in the housing market, most communities are still struggling to find enough of the right homes – and all that goes with them – to meet the projected needs of workers.
With the increase of industry throughout Northern British Columbia and Alberta, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) says the housing market had a good year in 2010.
Vacancy rates were down across the board. Some communities are boasting rapid growth and housing booms while others are trying as hard as they can to attract housing developers to their area.
CMHC analyst for Northern Alberta Fang Qin said Grande Prairie in particular has seen things tapering off because of a slowdown in its natural gas drilling activity.
The average vacancy rate in the latest survey is at 10.5 per cent, down from 15.5 per cent last year.
“Additions to the rental universe along with moderating demand as a result of a slower natural gas sector over the last couple of years have contributed to higher vacancies,” Qin said.
“However, we are starting to see things start to improve.”
In Grande Prairie, a city of approximately 50,000, the average two-bedroom rent is $843 per month, compared to $911 last year. As a result of elevated vacancies, Qin said property managers and landlords have been offering various incentives as well as rent reductions in order to attract and keep tenants.
“On the resale market, activity has experienced some moderation since the second half of the year,” she said.
“Sales in the second half of the year have moderated relative to the first six months, and elevated active listings afford potential buyers plenty of selection to choose from.”
As a result, Qin said, upwards price pressure has been largely absent this year. Year-to-date average resale price for all types of homes is just slightly below $258,000, up just one per cent from a year ago.
“Most of the increase in average price will come from a shift in product mix, with buyers migrating to higher end products,” she said.
Further north, and across the border, the community of Fort Nelson has experience dramatic growth due to petroleum and forestry industry expansion. Canfor is the largest employer and Fort Nelson is also home to America’s largest natural gas processing plant.
According to the town’s latest Community Profile document from November 2010, the current population of Fort Nelson is approximately 5,000 and the community is facing significant, rapid growth with the development of the Horn River Basin.
An October 2010 survey by the Northern Rockies Regional District – which includes Fort Nelson – identified 435 apartments available for rent, and vacancy rates were as low as 1.12 per cent for the bachelor and one-bedroom apartments.
The average one-bedroom rent is $543 while two-bedrooms sit around $682. A three-bedroom runs around $800.
Later this year the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality (NRRM) will begin the process of updating the Official Community Plan (OCP). With respect to housing, Section 3.6 of the existing OCP states that it is the goal of the community to “ensure the provision of adequate supplies of serviced land for urban residential and other town site uses that support a competitive real estate market”.
In addition, the residential policies of the OCP indicate that the objective of the community is to regulate the overall density and pattern of urban development and to provide for residential growth in an orderly and efficient manner.
To date, according to statements in their Residential Housing Strategy, the Town of Fort Nelson has been reasonably well planned, and residential development has proceeded in an orderly fashion.
However, in the medium term, Fort Nelson will grow from a town of 6,000 people to a city of 15,000 people. The location of residential housing with respect to municipal services and roads will become a greater challenge, and the report states it is important that the planning be accomplished in advance of the proposed residential development.
Housing challenges surrounding Fort Nelson include limited market housing, high construction costs, aging housing stock, a need for seniors’ and affordable housing, few rental or transitional housing options, and little incentive for developers to build rental housing – an issue that is also front and centre for the community of Chetwynd.
Chetwynd is a small town of approximately 3,000 located three hours north of Prince George.
For several years the current mayor and council have been trying to solve the local housing shortage issue but have had no luck thus far.
With both the coal mining industry and wind power expanding at an exponential rate, the need for housing is greater than ever.
The average cost of a home in Chetwynd runs around $200,000 and the vacancy rate for rentals hovers around zero on a frequent basis. An average non-furnished two-bedroom apartment rental runs about $850 while a house rental runs between $1,000 and $1,500 per month. Currently, there are 421 apartment units in Chetwynd.
In his weekly column in the local paper, the Chetwynd Echo, Saugstad has voiced his opinion on the housing crisis quite a few times.
“The last time we checked Chetwynd had a few rental apartments available but they are filled almost as soon as they are emptied,” he said this past spring. “We don’t expect this to change anytime soon, other than the waiting lists will get longer. To try and help the district is actively looking for developers to build new homes.”
With winter here, Saugstad said he doesn’t expect that a lot of new housing construction will take place “yet the hiring will continue and the workers will need a place to stay”.
A big issue surrounding the local boom is rental properties. The consensus seems that nobody wants to build and rent, but rather build and sell.
“Nobody builds rentals,” Saugstad said. “I don’t know anywhere in BC where anybody builds rental properties. So when you look at a new mine coming in it’s either buy a house or camp, and the new employees coming here are not so certain they want to buy a home. And if they’re not certain to buy a home, the developers won’t build them on spec.”
Saugstad said developers are worried about putting money into rentals because of the fear of economic downturn. Having said that, he did admit there has been some interest from a developer who may be willing to build another apartment complex in Chetwynd.
Saugstad was in attendance at a recent Mining Association of British Columbia (MABC) luncheon in Chetwynd. Following the presentations from Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of British Columbia and Randy Hawes, Minister of State for Mining tooting the industry’s horn, the discussion turned to housing in Chetwynd and how difficult it is to recruit workers to a town that has no place to live.
“Once the mines are up and running, the plan is to stay running,” Saugstad said “They (the mining companies) can look around and see that there are lands available. There are a lot of private lands for sale that are sub-dividable that people would sell if someone went to talk to them about it.”
Saugstad said according to the district’s Official Community Plan there are still a number of properties that would allow expansion for more subdivisions.
“There’s all kinds of properties,” he said. “There’s properties by the West Wind (hotel), properties behind the hospital, properties down adjacent to the Rodeo subdivision that are ready. They are all zoned residential and are available and lots of people are willing to develop them.”
Saugstad said over the winter he hopes to see some changes.
Minister Hawes concurred with Saugstad complimenting him on his council’s aggressiveness in trying to bring the government’s attention into it.
“As mines expand and new ones open we are going to need more housing,” he said. “This area has great potential for growth by building the infrastructure and housing.
“I know the mayor and council here are very aggressive … to ensure the infrastructure they need is in place before there is a big shortage and a big problem.”
One of the areas biggest employers, Western Canadian Coal (WCC) already employs more than 1,000 workers in the area. With their upcoming expansion and future mines in the works, they’re expecting another 1,000 employees.
“We’d like the community to grow and we want infrastructure,” WCC vice president of Canadian Operations Robert Bays said.
“That becomes a selling point to bring people and attract them here. They want communities they can raise families in.”
On the opposite spectrum is the City of Dawson Creek.
While director of Infrastructure and Sustainable Development Kevin Henderson could not be reached for comment, in a recent interview with the Dawson Creek News (DCN) regarding the recent housing boom in Dawson, he said more than 130 permits had been issued so far in 2010 for over $50 million in value.
Last year he said he saw a $33,207,159.23 total value in building permits up from $20,310,832 in 2008.
“It’s all got to do with the oil and gas industry surrounding this area,” he told the AHN. “It’s making for a very active economy. People are moving to town and people investing in town is what we’re seeing.”
Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier said the city is experiencing one of it’s biggest economic booms since the completion of the Alaska Highway.
“Twenty-ten has seen over $50 million dollars in development investment in the community with the outlook for 2011 looking just as positive,” Bernier told NWB. “Due to this boom though, the average house has climbed to almost $200,000 (which many in the province would consider still very affordable) and the cost of a rental unit has doubled. One highlight though has seen Dawson Creek with the highest average wages, and lowest unemployment in the province.”
As a city of 11,500, Bernier said they continue to plan for a growing community by making investments in such projects as a new Arts Centre to help revitalize their downtown, and continue to promote what has become a new Dawson Creek landmark; the Multiplex.
More than $9 million in renovations were invested in the Multiplex over the past few years including an Olympic-sized hockey rink with 6,500 surrounding seats and a state of the art swimming pool and water park.
Up the highway, the City of Fort St. John Mayor Bruce Lantz said his city has had its share of housing issues as well.
“Our population (currently around 17,000) is one of the most steadily growing in BC and thankfully developers are stepping up to the plate, but our issue is becoming one of affordability,” he said.
“We need more affordable homes, especially apartments and condos, for those who are just starting out and for our seniors as well.”
Lantz said the city is working with BC housing to address this shortfall, which he said will only grow if the Site C dam becomes a reality and brings an influx of construction workers.
The $6 billion Site C dam is currently in the midst of its environmental assessment and if approved will be online by 2020. It would be build on the Peace River seven kilometres away from Fort St John and is expected provide 900 megawatts of capacity and 4,600 gigawatt hours of electricity annually.
The average family home in Fort St. John for 2010 runs at around $315,750. As of end of November the city had 69 single-family dwellings built, 17 duplexes and two multi-family units. The average rent is for a house $1,200 to $2,000 while a one-bedroom apartment is between $650 and $850. A two-bedroom apartment is between $800 and $1,000.
“It’s quite steady,” Samantha Lucas, who is with the City of Fort St. John planning department said, “and it’s definitely industry related. There’s a slow down in trucking and business in the break up around April/May/June. Same with the fall where it’s just before winter and the ground isn’t frozen or the muskeg isn’t frozen yet.”
As for a trend, Lucas said there’s no real trend to be seen.
“A house that goes up for sale one day can be sold the next while a house next door will be for sale for a year.”
Head south through the Rocky Mountains to the Northern Capital of Prince George and Gary Shannon of Royal LePage Realty says things are slowing down substantially.
“We’ve had a very slow summer and fall,” he said. “Things are picking up a little bit but the things that are selling at the bottom end stuff like anything between $165,00 and $240,000. Those are the ones that are moving. A lot of first time buyers buying into the market and they’re buying in because the prices are great. And the interest rates are phenomenal so if there ever there was a time to buy, now is it.”
Unlike the majority of the North, Shannon – who is the current past president of the BC Northern Real Estate Board – said it is not industry driven.
“Our vacancy rates here in Prince George are not high but it’s not really low either,” he said. “We’re probably sitting at around five percent so it’s up from where it was a couple of years ago, at around two per cent.”
Despite the decline in action, Shannon says he’s fairly optimistic that things will pick up come spring.
“I do believe that with all the things happening, such as Mt. Milligan mine go ahead and the camp construction there, all these things are going to have to start to have some spin offs. It’s going to help our market.”
Another thing Shannon said he thinks caused the slowdown was the recently implemented and much controversial Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) that was brought in by the provincial government this year. But Shannon says the HST doesn’t really change things at all.
“The reality is there’s very little difference purchasing a used house on the market from what it was before,” he said. “You’re paying HST only on services, legal fee’s, inspection, and real estate fees. It’s probably only $300 to $400 more in a transaction. It’s not a lot especially when purchasing a home for $150,000.”
Where HST comes into place, Shannon said, is under the purchasing of a new construction home.
“If you’re buying a house that is $525,000 or less under a new construction there’s no real difference from before HST,” he said. “Whereas if it’s over, and that’s pretty rare in the North, that’s when you start paying the bigger bucks with HST.”
CMHC Market Analyst for Northern BC Serena Teakles said Prince George is pretty stable average rent levels staying pretty similar from years past with a two-bedroom coming in around $936 per month.
In smaller centres, Teakles said, such as Mackenzie and Tumbler Ridge, vacancy levels have dropped significantly given recent changes in those communities, again because of the oil and gas industry.
Tumbler Ridge realtor Sue Pittman-Kangas of Cascade Realty said the town currently has 45 single-family homes on the market, 12 two-bedroom apartments and 15 one-bedroom apartments.
“Our rental availability is almost nil at the moment and is expected to stay that way as we have contractors working on different projects and have even more coming,” she said.
The average cost of a home in Tumbler, which has a population of 3,300, is around $199,000.
It’s a ‘can do’ place and that attitude has carried Grande Prairie through many ups and downs and is clearly evident in the goals of those in the area. It hasn’t been the best few years but despite that, industrial growth to the tune of $355 million by September attests to an underlying optimism in the region’s development. That’s significantly more than the annual total of $245 million for 2009. And the City of Grande Prairie has identified about $700 million in capital investments.
“When you look at our area we are made up of a lot of sectors, we have the forestry sector, we have the oil and gas sector, we have the retail sector, we have agriculture and also tourism, so when you look at it, there are some that have done reasonably well and others that have struggled,” said Grande Prairie Chamber of Commerce (GPCC) chairperson Dave Cook.
“I think when you look at the industry overall, oil and gas we see a lot of optimism on the oil side, gas prices are still flat, but within the sector there is a great example of variance. In forestry, the pulp sector is doing very well whereas lumber and OSB are still struggling with their markets. And you can say the same in agriculture as well. Cereal crops are commanding good prices, so is canola, whereas cattle where a lot of herds were depleted when prices were low, cattle prices were starting to come up although hogs are still low and are anticipated to be low for some time to come, so again you see a lot of variance within that sector too. Our take on retail is that retail seems to be doing well in Grande Prairie although it’s kind of early to tell. December seems to be the month that really determines how well the retail and the service sector does.”
Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given agrees that things have certainly slowed down overall but he stressed that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a great deal of investment going on both publically and privately. He is determined to focus on the future and “build a community socially and physically that’s attractive and provides a good quality of life so that when we attract good qualified people to the North, that we’re able to keep them”.
Looking to the future is also on the minds of the county and the Chamber of Commerce membership, and while they report that business confidence is lower than expected (based on the last GPCC member survey), there is still considerable regional optimism for a strong future.
“I love that people in Grande Prairie are ready to make their own way and there’s a certain energy about our community that’s invigourating…in the past we might have called it a pioneer spirit and today we might describe it as entrepreneurialism,” said Given.
“Grande Prairie is recognized as one of the leaders is small business across Canada and I think that speaks a lot to maybe the type of industry that’s here, but also the fact that if somebody has an idea and they feel they can make a go of it they are positioned perfectly in our region to put it out there and do that. I think that’s one of the things that attracts people.”
And as in so much of the North, recruitment and retention is an ongoing issue that is about to become more critical as industry and development projects kick it up a notch.
“We’re strategically located to new developments for the North and I think that we can provide better service than any other major centre anywhere for the needs of the industries…,” said County of Grande Prairie economic development officer Walter Paszkowski.
In the county alone there are already 33,000 miles of road, and estimated 33,100 oil and gas wells, 717 businesses, and 84,004 kilometres of pipeline, 13 parks and 7 golf courses, but it’s not enough.
Currently the abundance of water in the county has no adequate distribution network, for example.
There is widespread agreement that the establishment of a solid infrastructure base is important to the continued growth of the area. City investments in the Art Gallery and the
Aquatic Centre, as well as the county’s efforts to establish a major interpretive centre to showcase the dinosaur fossils of the area, will go far in providing the amenities that people are interested in, but there are also projects less focused on culture, yet no less important to establishing the attractiveness of the area.
“If we can provide excellent health services and also provide the support staff to deliver on that then this is a draw to our area,” said Cook.
The province of Alberta has committed to $500 million toward the construction of a new regional health facility, with an educational component to be run through Grande Prairie Regional College, and a new railway logistics facility in the county with fuel, aggregate, sand, fertilizer and container depots will also add to what the area already offers.
Development projects notwithstanding, infrastructure still poses challenges – cost not being the least of the issues. The boom days brought with them a different mindset about spending and the rate of growth was staggering.
“In a lot of ways we’re still, in a lot of ways, playing catch-up with the growth that we experienced. It wasn’t possible to keep pace and expand at the pace that we needed to during those growing years,” said Given and the community needs to “normalize” and come to terms with the reality that it is no longer a small community but a city of about 55,000 people with an additional nearly 20,000 in the surrounding rural area. And now they need to pay for all this from a more marginal economy.
“A lot of the attention has been on the Wood Buffalo Region and the oil sands and we know they have received some special attention specifically related to water projects. We’re facing a $60 million-capital plan with our water utility here, Aquatera, and a lot of that is directly related to provincial government regulations and there’s no funding that’s attached to those increased regulations and in the Wood Buffalo side my understanding is that they had significant grants and interest free capital loans from the province and so that is a challenge…,” said Given.
“One of our priorities has to be, given the economic situation over the last few years, ensuring that we’re competitive as a municipality; that we have reasonable tax rates that provide a good level of service that people are expecting. We have to recognize that we’re not in the same situation we were in 2005 to 2007 where businesses bottom lines were growing and were very healthy, so we need to find a way to balance off the need to provide the services that businesses and residents expect while we’re providing good value for dollar and keeping and eye on the bottom line, so that’s a real challenge for us,” said Given.
The Chamber of Commerce is in fact concerned with such things as an effective transportations system, utility costs, property taxes and ensuring that the existing workforce is functioning at maximum productivity, said Cook. Although they are the third largest Alberta chamber by membership, over 50 per cent of their membership are companies with less than 10 employees and so those issues become even more critical.
Both the city and the GPCC said they are looking at issues close to home to help them compete and that is not always as simple as it might sound. They have been lobbying the province to address issues pertaining to cross-border trade. Cook reports his group has had some real success in their efforts to date in lobbying for the needs of their membership.
Although challenges and negotiations remain the order of the day, supporting that spirit of entrepreneurialism is an equally passionate spirit of cooperation that is helping to ensure the competitiveness of the area.
The city, the county, the province, the BC Peace, business organizations, educational and financial institutions and the diverse industries of the area are all working closely to create a favourable climate for progress.
“If we look at it, we’re competing on a global scale and we have to recognize that the Peace Country as a whole, irrespective of the provincial boundary is competing with regions in Saskatchewan, regions in the US, and ultimately when we talk about natural resources regions worldwide and so we need to ensure we’re as coordinated as we can be here…we need to find a way to work across the provincial boundary a lot easier,” said Given.
“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for Grande Prairie to become aware of the situation in the BC side of the Peace…at the very basis we should have good communication across the provincial boundaries and that doesn’t happen very often in my experience because we work under two different provincial governments often times we’re focused on our relationship with them more than we are each other and I think there’s a lot that can be shared between the cities in the area.”
TILMA (Trade and Labour Mobility Agreement) and the new West Partnership Agreement only go so far and “some provincial agencies may not be functioning within the spirit” of those agreements, said Given and he thinks there’s still some work to do there.
Working cooperatively doesn’t mean that there isn’t significant pressure – and desire – to ‘hire local’, but there are problems with that the public is not generally aware of, said Given.
Under TILMA, there are some purchasing regulations (for municipal government sector) that actually prohibit building local preference into purchasing policies,
“That’s a challenge we need to communicate with the public and also with the provincial governments to ensure that they know as municipalities we want to be able to support our local business who are paying local taxes as much as possible,” he added.
“The Peace Region is a little bit of a unique perspective on interprovincial trade because really we function as one region but there’s this border in between that causes some difficulties and we need to ensure that we function as smoothly as possible as one economic region without interference from that boundary.”
Given admits to a certain good natured envy of the Fair Share agreement in particular and said he thinks it has been a very good program for BC but that it seems to have counteracted what was always perceived as the ‘Alberta advantage’. It isn’t enough of a problem to create inter-provincial friction and the province of Alberta has implemented programs that have benefitted Grande Prairie, so in the end, it really is just a case of sibling rivalry so to speak.
“Within a family, which we are in the peace country, you can have a difference of opinion but you can still realize that you’re all in it together,” he added and it’s that attitude that has prompted a real effort to communicate and work with BC Peace municipalities so that everyone is stronger in the global marketplace.
“That’s what the economic downturn has been about – that we’re in a global economy, and I don’t think anyone can deny that now,” said Given.
Grande Prairie can expect new directions, new vision and new vitality over the next few years to carry them into that global market. Given characterized the new city council as “a fairly fresh team” and they will be starting with a blank slate in the spring to establish an equally fresh strategic plan said Given. He is hoping they share his vision of a shared future that takes advantage of the areas diversity, the entrepreneurship that has carried the community this far and the cooperation that will strengthen Grande Prairie for the future.
“Tight gas development in NEBC (Northeast BC) looks to continue to expand into 2011 with good drilling and completions activity. As a result, several companies, including Shell, plan to bring new gas plants on-stream in late 2010 and 2011. Along with this increased activity and production comes a growing industry appreciation of the need to work ‘hand in hand’ with all stakeholders, including residents, First Nations, regulators, governments, and contractors.
Andrew Dahlin • Shell Production Operations Manager NEBC
“Next year, Aux Sable Canada sees continued strength in natural gas and natural gas liquids development and exploration activities in Northeastern BC as companies such as ours provide desperately needed transportation and gas processing alternatives to area producers.”
T.L. (Tim) Stauft • Executive Vice President, Aux Sable Canada
“Industry continues to see long-term natural gas potential in Northeast BC, especially in the Horn and Montney. Current gas prices suggest that drilling activity in 2011 will be similar to 2010. Industry is committed to the region, and the recent application for a 20 year export license in Kitimat could open new markets for Western Canadian natural gas production.”
Brad Herald • Manager of Alberta Operations, CAPP
“We’re still finalizing our plans for 2011, but I’m optimistic we will have the same level of activity during 2011, if not more, than what we had during 2010 at our Farrell Creek development project.”
Dick Unsworth • VP Montney Delivery Unit, Talisman Energy Inc.
“As OSB market are so closely tied to new housing starts, a very slow recovery is expected. US housing starts have flat-lined at 580,000 per annum and are not expected to change in 2011. Unemployment levels are still high and the consumer confidence although improving is still low. Until these factors correct themselves the market for OSB is forecast to remain quiet.”
Don Soderlund • General Manager, Peace Valley OSB
“Apache Canada’s operations grew substantially in Northeastern, BC in 2010 with our acquisition of the BP upstream natural gas assets,” said Tim Wall, president. “While commodity prices continue to be a challenge, 2011 will continue to be exciting as we move forward with our new opportunities in the Montney area and look to further projects in the Horn River.”
Tim Wall • President, Apache Canada Ltd
I read with some interest your November issue. In particular, the feature on Travel Hotspots caught my attention.
Both Alberta and British Columbia have more than their fair share of remarkable locations to visit both for pleasure and for business and I was disappointed in the choices that were made as featured locations.
I’m a down-to-earth kind of guy and have worked for most of my adult life in the oil patch and frankly I have no interest whatsoever in airy-fairy retreats. I’m pretty sure that others would agree that more fitting locations could have been presented.
When I go to a conference, I am interested in a comfortable bed, meeting rooms that are a nice, comfortable temperature, and that let me hear well. And most of all, I want a respectable price – something that wasn’t mentioned at all.
I could care less about the view. I see those things everyday.
I might be more interested in the natural amenities if I were traveling with my family but even then, I would really like to just put up my feet and rest…working on some ranch isn’t my idea of relaxation.
With literally hundreds of hunting and fishing lodges to chose from, I would have expected at least one of them to be recognized. Those are the kinds of things people who live in this region can get behind.
I read your magazine regularly and have appreciated most of the changes that I’ve seen in the last year. The travel story was not only a disappointment, but has put me off reading anything else by that writer. I will continue to read Northwest Business because it has provided useful information and I trust that will continue to be the case in the future.
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In this issue:
• Safety: Bill of Goods or Best Practices?
• Forestry Rebound
Oil sands image linked to cooperation
CALGARY – Oil sands company leaders hope collaborative endeavours will improve their image.
The latest alliance, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), was announced at a Calgary press conference early March.
Talisman announces sale agreement
CALGARY - Talisman Energy announced an agreement with Xstrata Coal to sell certain non-producing, non-core coal properties located in northeastern British Columbia for US$500 million in cash.