From the monthly archives: November 2011

Innovation continues to be an important part of the way we need to conduct business. All too often however, we think of innovation as being new technology or technology commercialization – developing that new product and getting it into the marketplace.
Innovation is also different from invention. Relatively speaking, new inventions are few and far between while innovation – the combination of existing ideas or things for new purposes – is more common.
Scott Berkun, in his recent book “The Myths of Innovation” describes what he calls the ten myths of innovation. What follows are the first five myths, and my commentary on each.
Myth #1 – The myth of epiphany.  Quite simply, while the ‘eureka’ moment is what many innovators seek, it is most often only the moment when the last piece of the puzzle was put in place. Or maybe it was the original inspiration. But rarely does the finished product appear in that moment. It is only after much hard work that the innovation is complete.
Myth #2 – We understand the history of innovation.  The presence of a dominant new technology is often just the latest step in the development of many versions of that technology.  For instance, the domination of VHS over Beta only to be rendered obsolete by CDs which was then replaced by MP3s and so forth. It is easy to be clueless about what came before – just ask a teenager about dial telephone. You know what they say about cultures that don’t know their history.
Myth #3 – There is a method for innovation.  Essentially what Berkun says is that innovation starts by starting – it doesn’t really matter where. There isn’t a method as much as “there are patterns and frameworks that can be useful”. Work hard in a specific direction and or hard work with direction change is normal. Many innovations begin with curiosity, driven by the quest for wealth or money, or out of necessity.  “While there are no maps, there are attitudes that help.”  So, find the paths of innovation that work for you and get help with the others.
Myth #4 – People love new ideas.  “Every great idea in history has the big, red stamp of rejection on its face.”  So … perseverance is a necessity, but remember, becoming delusional about your idea can be catastrophic to your financial position. Managing your fears, excitement and doubt is imperative while you develop your product. While you may love your new idea expecting that there will be many roadblocks, setbacks and disappointments when you start will enable you to manage those setbacks more realistically.  “Frustration + innovation = entrepreneurship.”
Myth #5 – The lone inventor.  “Who invented the light bulb? No, it wasn’t Thomas Edison. Two lesser-known inventor, Humphrey Davy and Joseph Swan both developed working electric lights well before Edison.” Don’t think you can do it alone, because you can’t.  Managing your help is the secret to success.
Next month, the remaining five myths of innovation as described by Scott Berkun.
Dr. Bruce Rutley is the Director of the Centre for Research & Innovation at Grande Prairie Regional College.


A Heat Trace System That’s Greening Things Up.
In the North, heat is a commodity valued by both residents and industry. While it is easy enough to heat a home, there are locations where heat is needed but not as readily available and providing it comes at a cost to the bottom line as well as the environment.

Cataflow Technologies has a solution. Seven years of development have produced a technology that converts energy from its gas form to heated glycol and electricity. And while there are many potential applications ranging from in-floor heating to RVs, the company is currently focusing on industrial users that need heat for flow lines, pipe lines, well heads, BOP’s, separators, tanks (including production, propane and pop tanks), tank farm manifolds, buildings, battery banks and walkways.
“The biggest thing about the technology is that we’re utilizing a flameless heater and what we’re doing is we’re harvesting the heat out of there and converting it over to a more friendly type of medium,” said Cataflow business manager Delbert Benterud.
“The other interesting thing we’re doing is we’re generating electricity as well so it’s completely self-powering. All that you need in order to utilize this is either natural gas or propane.”
And in smaller quantities than other products, he added. It’s efficiency allows the larger unit burns six litres of propane a day and the smaller one burns three.
One of the biggest advantages in the age of lower emissions and environmental accountability is that “pretty much everything” is burned off. Testing showed close to zero emissions on Cataflow’s equipment. There is an extremely small amount of methane unburned.
“You can run this inside your building safely without it being vented to the outside,” said Benterud.
“When you look at the CO2 emissions of what they’re doing out there in order to achieve the heat trace that they have right now they will vent atmosphere, on average, 2-million cubes a year, which is about 750 tonnes of CO2 emissions, which translates in carbon tax form to $15/tonne.”
The possible savings can amount to $10,000/year – and that doesn’t account for the long -term environmental costs.
Inside the stand-alone heater box, glycol from a reservoir is moved through the proprietary heat exchangers while at the same time, electricity is being generated which powers an electric pump that moves the glycol. The only moving part on the equipment is the DC motor and the flow is even, without high pressure.
At present, models are being built with the focus on heating but in the future, said Benterud, models will be built that produce excess power of 40 and 60 watts initially. When that happens, workers could tie their instruments into that instead of having to have a generator to create the needed power. They newer models are about a year away from being released, said Benterud.
Some units have already been in the field for two years and some have been located in “problem sites” and Benterud said, they have performed “very well”.
“We’re now at the point of CSA approval…and we’re ready to move into production and we’re ramping up to do that now,” said Benterud.
Into the future, the technology could be applied to home heating, commercial heating, RVs and campers.  The possibility for those applications is promising, particularly the capacity to generate surplus energy to power batteries and other devises.
The company has also been invited to participate in a McMaster University high efficiency home project over the next two years.
“We need to explore that a bit more…as of yet we don’t know everything that will be involved in that but it’s very exciting,” said Benterud.
“I believe it is the way of the future. It’s just a matter of getting things properly sized for the applications.”

Cataflow Technologies is a Grande Prairie company. They can be reached at 780-532-7070 or through their website at


From far and wide several times a year, oil and gas producers and those who service and supply them gather at energy conferences and trade fairs across Northeastern BC and Northern Alberta. The presumption is that these events are essential to conducting business in this vital industry, providing the updates, government policy positions, and the contacts to ensure that industry thrives. But are they?

As the industry struggles to cope with its expanding frontiers, new mostly unconventional plays, and the ever-present environmental controversies unfolding against the backdrop of a shrinking workforce as the baby boomers move into retirement, many are asking whether so many events are needed. While most agree some type of gathering and exchange of information is desirable, many are questioning which is the more valuable use of their time: the highly political conferences, or the perhaps more practical trade fairs, such as the Energy Expo held Sept. 21-22 in Fort St. John, BC. The Energy Expo began two years ago as a joint effort by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and Energy Services BC (ESBC) after the City of Fort St. John decided to dispense with a trade fair attached to the annual BC Energy Conference.

Adam Skulsky, operations analyst, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

“We don’t like to sit for days in conferences,” said Dave Turchanski, president of ESBC, which is largely made of up the firms that service the oil and gas industry in BC.
“We like the trade shows because they’re hands on and we can talk to the people we need to communicate with, instead of sitting for hours in conferences listening to speeches.
“These have real value as long as the producers send the right people: their procurement people and their decision-makers.”

Sales rep Grant Pegden-Wright of DynaFlo demonstrates some emergency shutdown equipment they offer to Pimm’s Production GM Ted Pimm.

That sentiment was echoed by many of the 60-plus exhibitors who turned out for the two-day event held at the Pomeroy Hotel conference centre.
“I come to these more because I can see more of our customers, those who are more involved in the day-to-day operations of the industry,” said Pimm’s Production general manager Ted Pimm, who added that key to the success of a trade show is the appearance of “the right people”, the decision makers.

ESBC president Dave Turchanski, left, with Talisman Energy reps John McGougan, Andrea McLandress and Edna Howard.
“At conferences you just see the land people and politicians and government officials. At a trade show we can talk about the details of what we do. Conferences are more of a lecture format. We get a lot more from the trade show format.”
He also noted that at trade shows it’s possible to get more of the company’s team involved, reducing the time commitment by their executives to two to three hours. “At a conference, though, you pay your registration and you’re locked in and that’s valuable time away from your company and the field.”
Energy conferences have been around almost as long as the industry itself. In many cases they have offered trade fairs like the Energy Expo as an adjunct to the conference, affording suppliers and the service sector an opportunity to showcase their wares and services. Conference-goers would use breaks to tour the trade shows, talking to exhibitors and, more than occasionally, setting up agreements for supplies and/or services. For many on both sides of the equation, that made attendance at the event worthwhile in its own right, regardless of the value of the conference presentations.
Both are important because they reach different audiences, said Adam Skulsky, CAPP operations analyst, but he sees real value in events like the Energy Expo.
“Each has its positives but this (Expo) is an opportunity for local businesses to meet and greet and touch base. We need to have the right people here and that’s our goal at CAPP, to get the right people here, the ones you need to talk to. It’s about creating relationships and getting your name out there.”
CAPP organized the first Energy Expo in Fort St. John, and this year co-organized the trade fair with ESBC. In the future, he said, CAPP hopes ESBC will take it over with CAPP providing support and ensuring that production companies participate.
“We (producers) need to be here to make it successful,” he said.
Expos like this one are vital to those wishing to get on the bid lists of production companies. “It’s the whole point of the Expo,” Skulsky said. They can learn what qualifications are needed to get on the bid lists and make the connections to do so.
“And these contacts filter down from the service sector to local contractors. It opens the door to a lot of possibilities. Making face-to-face contacts and getting business cards means it’s easier to get answers from those you’ve met here. You can just pick up the phone.”
There’s value in both energy conferences and trade fairs, suggested John McGougan, superintendent of Fort St. John operations for Talisman Energy. But in his view the two types of events should be combined as the industry players who need to be at both are “spread thin” in this busy economy. He even suggested that the current program of rotating the BC energy conferences annually between Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson should be revisited.
“I like the rotation but we seem to be siloing ourselves between the Horn and Montney plays,” he said. “We need to take a broader view, one for the whole region. There’s power in numbers so we should get together as a whole region.”
Ensuring that trade fairs accompany the conferences would make sense, he added, because it also would ensure that the Premier and Energy Minister get to interact with service companies. “The key guys try to get to these events but maybe we should have one or two not four or five that they have to try to attend.”
He also suggested that more promotion of the Expo is needed, as many didn’t learn of it in time to book hotels and flights into their busy schedules. Also, he suggested holding conferences and fairs in Spring, perhaps April or May, when the industry is in a lull due to the annual breakup season. It’s hard for industry leaders to set aside time for them in the fall when their business is ramping up.
“But one way or the other these are great and we want to continue to be present at them,” McGougan said.
Turchanski agreed that better marketing of the Energy Expo will be a key component of its future success, as will support from the provincial government.  He said ESBC is now better known in Calgary, the heart of the Canadian oil and gas industry, and that bodes well for the future. But he said it’s unfortunate that the industry isn’t getting the support it needs from the BC government – support that was readily available in the days when Richard Neufeld and his successor, Dawson Creek’s Blair Lekstrom, were BC energy ministers.
Turchanski said that in the future it will be vitally important that the service sector invites the people they deal with, and that ESBC members help the organizers with their input as the event is planned. While it’s a “bit of a balancing act”, trade shows like this are better than energy conferences for most in the industry, he added.
“This is only the second one and it’s bigger than the first,” Turchanski said. “It’s only going to get better.”


Having run a safety training school for many years, it never ceases to amaze me how many of the top academic students struggle to apply their training in real life. The problem is, unless you spend time in one of the mainstream emergency professions such as a paramedic or firefighter, there is no way to experience real life emergencies on demand.

It’s not like work experience in a carpenter shop or a restaurant; you can’t just strap on a tool belt or an apron and get to work. You can get your equipment ready and review your books, but real time application is something we are all working to avoid!
There is a real gap between head knowledge and practical experience when it comes to the safety industry. Very often, the CSO or medic on your jobsite has never had to deal with a major injury or a life-threatening situation and their response to either is a complete unknown. So the question is, can there be something done to bridge this gap?
As a young boy I remember going to the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) in Vancouver each summer, and what has stood out the most in my memory were the mock disasters that were put on as a regular show. I would sit in the bleachers with bated breath as the curtains hiding the outdoor stage rolled back, anticipating the loud explosion that always started the event.
A startling real emergency scene would appear, with the cries of injured people piercing the brief silence after the blast, and acrid smoke wafting into the stands. Real emergency personnel from the military, search and rescue and ambulance would rush onto the scene, and the audience would be drawn into the fast paced and intense drama. It was like I was experiencing the event first hand and it made a powerful impact on me. To this day I still remember every one I attended and I am sure this is in part why I have always been drawn to the emergency service industry.
If witnessing these mock scenarios as a child could make such a lasting impression on me, being involved in them as an adult during my time as a paramedic was even more impacting. I have dealt with the real thing many times as well, and although a set up scenario it is not quite the same, it does engage your physical senses and your emotions. You learn what it feels like to be confronted by chaos, noise, perceived danger and panicked patients.
Practicing proves invaluable when called on to deal with challenging calls. It tests your responses, and gives you opportunity to correct and improve without risking lives in the process.
It’s been proven that if you can tie an event to an emotion, you will never forget that experience. This is hard to replicate in the classroom and is why most courses try to include real life stories, and even graphic videos.
Staging emergencies in the workplace needs to be of high importance for the future of the safety industry.
I know of several oil companies who have recently put on mock accident scenarios in the field, at quite an expense. They involved everyone from the front line worker to the medic, safety coordinator, job supervisor and even head office. Everyone had the opportunity to act out their part exactly as they would if a real incident happened. Any weaknesses in the safety program or in the people themselves were very obvious and all these could be corrected without any lawsuits or loss of life.
As the importance of safety increases and the amount of actual emergencies decrease, the practical experience gained through these incidents will also decrease. This is somewhat of a conundrum as our goal is to be safer, but in the process we lose the ability to respond appropriately in unsafe situations.
Enacting mock scenarios goes a long way to bridging the gap between head knowledge and practical experience.
If a serious incident occurred on your worksite tomorrow, would your workers and safety personnel be able to respond as they have been trained? Are the safety protocols you have in place enough? Until they have been tested you can’t know the answer to these questions. While carrying out these drills take time and have a cost, in the end, they can save lives and keep you from ending up on the wrong end of a lawsuit.
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


Everything new comes with expectations and comparisons. It’s human nature to look at something new and have questions about how it will perform, whether it will satisfy, what changes might happen or if it’s even worth having.
When it comes to a new pair of pants the implications are not likely earth shattering. If they don’t measure up to the expectations then tossing them aside is not a huge deal. It comes down to one person, one opinion, and that person has all the control they could ask for. There’s not much fear attached to the process.
It’s another story when what’s new is a provincial leader – two in fact.
Both Alberta and British Columbia are now dealing with new premiers – and with that, all the expectations, comparisons and questions.
At the very least there will, or should be expectations of new policies and initiatives to address the needs of business and industry.
Questions of how those changes will deal with issues of recruitment and retention will be at the forefront of more than a few minds. Part and parcel of that issue will be dealing with the need for housing and infrastructure in the North.
There is also the ongoing issue of the environment. In Alberta the oil sands pose a number of challenges and across the region, issues of fracing and water use are still getting a lot of attention.
Dealing with royalties, subsidies, and ensuring that the communities that generate the money get to benefit from their resources could end up being a little like juggling with knives.
Whether the new premiers will address these issues well, balancing the needs of communities and individuals with the needs of business and industry, remains to be seen.
Politicians are not a pair of pants. They don’t need to fit just one person, but many. If they are to satisfy the best expectations of the people they represent, those people need to ask their questions of the premiers and be prepared to offer solutions that recognize it’s not a one size fits all world.


Located 486 km northwest of Edmonton and 195 km northeast of Grande Prairie, Peace River and the surrounding area are perhaps best known for their scenic vistas and outdoor opportunities however, Peace River is more than just a pretty face.

A thriving regional service and trade center, the Peace River area has a vibrant business community and a growing industrial base. Retail, government, oil and gas and a solid home-based business segment are all part of the dynamic mix that supports and contributes to the area’s appeal.
“We know that we are on the verge of great opportunity in our region and yet Peace River is an interesting place – we’ve been on that verge of opportunity for a long, long time,” said Peace River Chamber of Commerce president Stephen Woodburn.
While there is an air of anticipation about the future, growth has been slow and steady blending expansion and stability for the community. They are “open for business” Woodburn said and new ventures are always welcome.
“I think that our business community really understands the area. We are regional thinkers. We’re not just focused on the town of Peace River for example…What comes to our area will not just support and benefit Peace River but it will support and benefit the region,” said Woodburn.
“I think that’s a key factor that needs to be recognized.”
There are also challenges. Getting specific information about what’s in development isn’t always as easy as Woodburn would like.
“We’ve been talking about nuclear energy in our region and that’s been very quiet now for some time and that’s fine but it sure would be nice to know from the powers that be ‘why is it so quiet?’”
“Sometimes that lack of communication, whether it’s from the oil companies or the energy industry in general, is one of the biggest challenges we face.”
And as it is in many Northern communities, Woodburn recognizes the business sector is a close-knit group, able to work together for common goals, and with the community commitment to be strongly supportive of volunteerism and community building.
There is also a strong sense of culture and heritage. Named Cultureville 2011, Peace River now has wide spread recognition for being a leading cultural centre of the country.
At the confluence of the Peace, Smoky and Heart rivers, there is plenty of history to be uncovered as well as a chance to appreciate the valley and all that it offers. Outlooks and trails provide access to the natural beauty of hills and valley as well as an opportunity for recreations such as walking, hiking, biking and photography. Parks provide families a place to gather.
While it is easy to stop and appreciate the beauty, that too is an opportunity for industrial growth.
“The beauty of the Peace River Valley and the area as a whole is certainly on the radar for tourism…and the Chamber of Commerce recognizes that and we encourage travellers to stop and make it part of their travel plans,” said Woodburn.


What is it and how do you deal with it?

It seems like an odd and perhaps redundant question to ask ‘what is stress?’, especially in lieu of the fact that most of us have an intimate relationship with it. From our first waking moments we begin to process, plan and play out our work day in intricate detail often focusing specifically on the obstacles that we imagine we will need to overcome and already beginning to feel the effects of stress.
At our jobs we may experience it continually as we’re being bombarded by problems and seemingly insurmountable piles of work. And at the end of a long day many of us spend tormented hours tossing and turning in our beds rather than getting the sleep we desperately need.
It’s possible that a great deal of the stress we experience is self-induced, created by habit and as a consequence of over thinking, and often as a by-product of our personality characteristics. But how do we control it?  How do we focus on the present and savor every minute of our precious time rather than constantly obsessing over the future? And at the risk of being redundant what is stress and is it all bad?
Stress is what the body experiences as a result of changes or stressors in our environments. These changes can be as minute as fluctuations in temperature, or the amount of light in the room, or even a loud noise in our immediate vicinity. Or, they can be perceived changes occurring in some area in our lives. This is an important point because the overall effect of stress on our minds and bodies is often a direct function of how we perceive a particular experience.
Take for example the fight or flight effect. Most people are familiar with this expression in terms of how a person deals with an impending conflict in their lives. Fight or flight dictates that the body mentally and physically readies itself to either fight or flee for their lives. This preparation occurs on a number of levels including a heightened sense of awareness, increased heart rate, increased blood flow to the limbs and an accompanying huge burst of adrenaline to the bloodstream. Unfortunately, in our modern world our bodies are still responding to changes in the environment with that same urgency as if we are being attacked by a large, furry and ferocious creature.

The key here though is balance and where too little stress may allow you to become complacent in your life and fail to live up to your potential, too much will undoubtedly destroy you.

We may perceive that incidents in our lives such as conflicts at work, altercations in traffic or disagreements with our friends and families are life threatening and as a consequence we experience the same symptoms as someone preparing for battle.
These perceptions often occur at a subconscious level making our responses to stressors automatic over time and potentially difficult to change. And although most of the stressors in our lives are not actually life-threatening, over time our misperceptions and unnecessarily angry and stressed responses can create      health problems as well as issues in our places of work and in our homes.
But not all stress is bad and can be positive or negative depending on the nature of the experience, how you perceive it, as well as the duration of the stressor.
In fact there are two specific categories of stressors commonly referred to as eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress).
Eustress is stress experienced as a result of positive things in one’s life such as an upcoming wedding, the purchase of a new home or anticipation of an upcoming trip.
Distress is just the opposite; stress as a consequence of financial issues, sickness, death in the family and on and on.
What makes differentiating the two varieties difficult is that each and every person experiences stressors differently from the next. What is stressful for you may actually be exhilarating for your next door neighbour.
A great example of this is working in an exhilarating and sometimes dangerous occupation and while you may find it to be exciting and challenging, your co-worker may be suffering from chronic and debilitating stress. Stress is a subjective experience and the effects of any given event will be different from person to person.
Numerous studies have illustrated that small amounts of stress can be quite beneficial especially to those in the work world. Stress in manageable doses can be motivational, inspirational and can push the individual to achieve more than they thought possible.
The key here though is balance and where too little stress may allow you to become complacent in your life and fail to live up to your potential, too much will undoubtedly destroy you.
Numerous studies done with lab animals have shown the same reactions to stress as humans and include ulcerations in the stomach, shrinkage of the lymph nodes as well as other more serious conditions, heart attacks stroke and kidney problems.
Many of these adverse effects are caused by chemicals that are normally viewed as necessary and essential in the human body. An example of this is the hormone known as Cortisol, secreted by the adrenal gland and extremely important to blood pressure regulation as well as the release of insulin into the bloodstream. It is also central to the well-being of the immunity system and inflammatory regulation in the body’s tissues.
During prolonged periods of stress Cortisol can become detrimental releasing more of the hormone than the body needs or can effectively process.
So what can we do to control the amount of stress that we experience? There are a number of ways to address this issue ranging from simple coping mechanisms to full-blown counseling interventions. The means and manner of dealing with your stress will depend upon the severity and duration of your symptoms as well as your particular personality traits.
Acute stress is the most common and most manageable form of stress. Most people experience this at one time or another in their lives and usually do not experience any long term adverse affects from it. Treatment might include taking some time off of work, getting more sleep at night and allowing oneself to let go and relax on the weekend.
Acute episodic stress is more serious, habitually deep-seated and more likely to have harmful effects on the individual’s body and mind over time. Treatment for this form might include more intensive techniques including deep relaxation, guided imagery and even perhaps meditation in combination with prescription medication.
Chronic stress is defined as a long term and established form of stress that is often experienced as a function of some traumatic event(s). Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is one form of chronic stress and can cause many different problems for the sufferer including nightmares and other sleep problems, irritability, difficulty concentrating as well as difficulties communicating and maintaining positive relationships with others. Treatments for PTSD as well as other forms of chronic stress are more involved and can take years before effecting any measurable change in the sufferer.
In lieu of the fact that most of us need to work to survive and the strain of our modern world can sometimes be overwhelming, it’s up to us as individuals to make sure we do the things that we know are beneficial to us. Eating right, getting enough sleep at night and maintaining a positive attitude are simple easy ways to maintain a good balance in your life and avoid the debilitating effects of stress.


Coal is poised to make a comeback, fueled by offshore demand. But the industry’s growth faces challenges in Northeastern BC, where the workforce can’t keep up with the projected growth.

Experts addressing more than 100 delegates to the Northeastern BC Coal and Energy Forum Oct. 5-6 recognized that mining has come back to the region in a big way just a decade after it disappeared. And they predicted the industry will at least triple the number of mines in the area thanks to demand from the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and Japan.
The surge in coal production is fueled by rising demand from BRIC, who need metallurgical (Met) coal for steel production, Scott Clark of the Coal Association of Canada (CAC) said. Even Europe and the United States, again hit by a recession, are expected to increase their demand for the Met coal essential for steel production.

Craig Batten of Peace River Coal tell delegates to the Northeast BC Coal & Energy Forum that finding workers will be a major problem as the industry grows.

“Everyone’s very confident they’ll work it out and recover,” Clark said. While Australia is the world’s biggest player in the Met coal market, Canada and in particular Northeast BC, is gaining ground as corporations that downsized and closed some mines when coal prices bottomed out around 2000-01 are re-entering the market with a vengeance to capitalize on better prices and swelling demand (record prices were achieved in 2010 and exports grew by 22.3 per cent that year).
In China alone, steel production is forecast to reach nearly 800 million tonnes by 2013 and, because demand is already outpacing supply, a 50 million tonne shortfall is being predicted.  With a need for another 50 million tonnes per year, and with Northeastern BC boasting a local population with mining and industry experience, Asian steelmaking countries are looking for coal from Northeast BC. He predicted Northeast BC would see the most growth in coal production because there’s “lots of interest” from overseas in the area and from companies in which Asian (mostly Chinese) firms are taking ownership positions.
Further, the ability of CN Rail, which counts coal as making up 15 per cent of all its carloads, to ship to the Port of Prince Rupert’s growing capacity to handle coal exports, is a key asset. CN’s Jay Roberts said the railway is expecting a $3 billion-$5 billion investment in coal production growth in the next five years. The “heart” of that is Northeast BC, he said, and a key to that growth is the link via CN to Prince Rupert, which in turn opens up the Asian markets.

Dylan Houlihan of Urban Systems, left, and Ray Proulx of Teck Resources present the results of a study into how Tumbler Ridge can deal with a severe housing shortage as it tries to accommodate workers in the growing coal industry.
Ann Marie Hann, president of the Coal Association of Canada

Scott Clark of the Coal Association of Canada outlines the future growth expected in the coal industry to delegates at the Northeast BC Coal & Energy Forum in Tumbler Ridge Oct. 5-6.

“The capacity is there, “ Roberts said, noting that CN wants to integrate mines, rail and ports to create efficiencies. He said that while four million tonnes of coal were shipped that way in 2010, the number is expect to hit 16 million tonnes by 2015. Prince Rupert’s Ridley Island terminal is expanding the meet the anticipated demand and will be able to handle 24 million tonnes and eventually to 40 million. And the chief point of origin for coal delivery to Prince Rupert is Northeast BC.
“It puts you in quite a place globally,” said CAC’s Clark. “For the coal industry – and Tumbler Ridge – it’s just the beginning”.
But that beginning has its price. To meet demand and with the number of mines in Northeastern BC expanding, a serious shortage of workers is looming. For example, Peace River Coal will need 300 more workers “in the very near future”, said human resources manager Craig Batten while Teck Resources, whose mines produce 85 per cent of Canada’s steelmaking coal, will need over 400 more, said community liaison Ray Proulx.  Both firms are courting First Nations and women as human resources that can be tapped. Dan McNeil of Walter Energy (formerly Western Canadian Coal) said his firm is adding three more mines to the four they already have in Northeastern BC. “There’s no limit to the growth of the mines in this area,” he said. And as with many industries, the more experienced miners are retiring in droves and even if the interest in these high-paying jobs is there, the training must be available.
“Gone are the days when we can attract those with 20 years experience,’ said Batten. “Thousands are needed in the mining industry each year to 2016 at least and lots aren’t aware of these career opportunities. Very few grads consider mining as a career even though it has 120 different career opportunities. Mining is a valued career path. It’s just that even though the broad spectrum is there, the understanding is not.”
Northern Lights College is partnering with the industry to meet that challenge. Donna Merry, administrator for both the Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd campuses, said there’s a “dearth of skills” in the mining industry at present and college programs can help fill that gap. They’ve even gone so far as to offer a Mining Fundamentals program admittedly geared to First Nations students, and an industry-oriented English as a Second Language program for landed immigrants moving to the coalfields. NLC offers specifically tailored courses to meet industry needs – some even taking place on the work site.
Recruitment and retention will be “certainly a challenge”, said Ann Marie Hann, president of the Coal Association of Canada. Trades and specialized skills are in high demand, with the increasing pace of mine development creating considerable new activity in a short time frame placing pressure on the industry and its partners to keep up.
“Every company is trying to figure that out,” she explained and while it’s a competitive environment, companies are collaborating on HR (human resources) and community issues. There’s a skills shortage but there are also problems with accommodation and housing. If they find the workers where will they stay?
“There needs to be dialogue between (industry towns) and the companies. The two have to work together. Companies can’t just worry about their own interests. They need to work with the municipality to ensure broader issues are being addressed.”
She said workers don’t just want “a roof over their heads” but also services like recreation, health care, education and lifestyle. “It’s vital that industry work with municipalities to meet these challenges.”
The municipalities are ready to do just that, as much as they are able.
“We’re hitting a crunch,” said acting Tumbler Ridge Mayor Jerilyn Schembri. She said that with the coal industry set to triple or even quadruple its activity in the area over the next three years, job training, housing and health services will be vital components of meeting industry’s demand.
A study conducted by municipal consultants Urban Systems forecasts demand for housing in Tumbler Ridge to hit up to 1,500 units in two to three years while the supply is likely to reach only 230 units. The neighbouring mining town of Chetwynd faces similar issues. Some mining companies are buying or building homes and even a Best Western Hotel for their employees. But they don’t want to own homes and they are “wary” of camps, said Urban Systems’ planner Dylan Houlihan.
While housing developers are interested, the cost of building materials is high and a construction workforce isn’t readily available. In addition, the Crown owns most available land so the District of Tumbler Ridge may apply to the province to release the Crown land for development. Plus, the developers want guarantees from the mining companies to back their projects, and now are building small projects of 5-10 homes at a time, which doesn’t match the growing demand. Supply/demand issues contribute to escalating rental prices, which in turn can affect the willingness of skilled workers to relocate to the area.
Houlihan said, the limited options available to manage industry growth are providing incentives to developers, offering subsidies to employees, and having industry partner with housing developers.
Acting Mayor Schembri said, Tumbler Ridge was built with the infrastructure to hold 10,000 people but the high cost of building and a shortage of available land makes housing development difficult.
“We’re working to make things as easy and streamlined as we can for developers,” she said. “We’re working to ensure that growth will happen.”