Oilsands-producing companies form group to share resources and find solutions to challenges in the industry.
When Reegan McCullough took over as executive director of the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA) in March 2014, the oil industry was booming. He was kept busy with projects to aid the communities and companies entrenched in the Athabasca oilsands in Alberta, Canada.
These days, McCullough and the young organization are facing different challenges during the industry slowdown. However, OSCA, which was created in summer 2013, is making strides in an effort to be a positive industry difference-maker.
“The idea is to help the producing companies organize and look for ways to work together to manage any sort of socio-economic challenge arising from development in the oilsands area,” McCullough says.
OSCA, which is a member-funded organization, operates with about 25 area industry members whose work encompasses a large area within Alberta. The majority of the alliance’s work is done in the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo where Fort McMurray is located. OSCA’s boundary to the south stretches to Lac La Biche County and to the west in the Wabasca-Desmarais area.
The alliance discovered that by combining its efforts and expertise, the group is better able to navigate uncertainty and push for tangible solutions to the complex challenges that have emerged over time.
“A couple years ago, the oilsands companies got together and did a current state of what kind of challenges there are and then looked at a future state,” McCullough says.
“The future state had a lot to do with what they could accomplish if they worked together.”
McCullough feels like in the two short years OSCA has been in existence it has made an impact.
“I definitely think we’re making progress,” McCullough says. “And there’s no question the speed at which the price of oil plunged and the impact that it’s had. It certainly requires that we be very nimble and flexible in terms of refocusing our priorities.”
FOUR CORE AREAS
OSCA, which tries to be more proactive than reactive, represents a commitment to maximizing benefits in the communities where they operate through collaborative action in four core areas: infrastructure, community well-being, aboriginal community relations, and workforce.
Infrastructure includes all roads, bridges, air drones, camps and what OSCA dubs co-generations.
“The scale and scope of these things are quite extensive,” McCullough says. “The amount of roads and bridges alone would be in double digits of billions of dollars in terms of future expansion, etc.”
For community well-being, OSCA focuses on what the communities need to be able to attract and retain skilled workers, their families and associated businesses.
“So we look at things like, what are the health services in the community, the educational services, both K-12 as well as post-secondary,” McCullough says. “We would also look at what are the needs of the municipality. Depending on the times over the years when there’s been rapid growth, there’s obviously more pressure on those communities to develop the infrastructure that they need.”
Another core area OSCA deals with is aboriginal community relations. McCullough says each company has an arrangement with aboriginal groups
and First Nations, and OSCA is helping bridge the gap between the parties involved.
“We focus on ways the companies can work together, and more specifically how that relates to employment, business development, education skills and training development,” McCullough says. “Of course, working with the aboriginal communities, it’s very critical to us that they determine the right direction, the right time. But we want to be there to work alongside and support them to be as successful as they can be.”
The final area of importance for OSCA is workforce. Since McCullough has been the executive director of the organization, the price of oil has changed dramatically thus the demand for skilled workers has tailed off.
“We started some initiatives, but we’ve since put them on hold pending a more favorable economic climate,” McCullough says. “At the same time, we’re doing a lot of work with the municipalities and the province to help define what the production levels are forecast to be, and from that what employment requirements will be, whether it would be for construction, maintenance or operations. From there, we’re forecasting what the population growth will be.”
McCullough says the most important area OSCA deals with is working on relationships.
“That comes through our engagement process,” McCullough says. “There is no magic bullet. Any kind of relationship takes discussions early and often and in a real and meaningful kind of way. That truly is a big part of what we do.”
Within OSCA, there are a number of committees and subcommittees. There are well over 200 representatives from member companies who are experts in their given subject matter. The committees meet on a regular basis to address the ever-changing industry.
“We look at what the issues are, prioritize them and then look at ways we can manage them,” McCullough says. “In most of those cases, it would require some kind of a partnership arrangement.”
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
OSCA is constantly working on new projects. One major project it was involved with in 2015 was twinning of road that leads up to the Fort McMurray area, which was slated to be finished early this year.
“There’s no question when it was still a two-lane road and major loads were being moved up into that area, the safety on the road had its challenges. And, of course, people would speak out,” McCullough says. “Now that we’re close to finishing, people are pleased with that. But there’s other road structures that may not be quite to the same extent, but we want to bring them to appropriate safety standards for the volumes of traffic.”
Since the oil production slowdown, OSCA has had time to start looking into what to do with some of the extra capacity there is in camps.
Another area OSCA is concentrating on relates to the growth forecast. Annually, a report is released detailing projections on growth over the next 20 years. OSCA dissects that report and looks at the current transportation networks to try and sort out where they can improve commuting distances and issues related to that.
“We have an opportunity now given the current market to take a bit of a breather and a reset in terms of what are in fact the priorities today versus what they were two years ago,” McCullough says. “It’s amazing how much has changed in that regard. You’ve got to be flexible and nimble to be able to change with the times.”
OSCA has certainly shown its adaptability to best meet the needs of its members.