Monday, January 19, 2015

Candid Thoughts on Being an Oil Patch Worker and Owning a Home in Fort McMurray Part II

On ground level within the small box of my own daily existence, I've noted a cooling off in the housing market and cheaper prices at the pumps.  Gas prices in my little corner of Fort McMurray are almost down to the level they were when I first came here in 2009.  My work has been affected insofar as my work schedule will be changing once again this coming week.  This is something I used to freak out over a little as I AM a creature of habit.  But this will be the fifth different work schedule I've had now so I adjust and deal with it.  I'm actually not seeing a reduction in hours but they are just distributed a bit differently.  For about a year I had been working 7 on/7 off.  Having worked as many as 18 days with three days off, I found that having an entire week off a bit trying at times.  Not so bad during the summer but a bit painful during winter.  I figure if it's going to be cold and dark I'd rather be working and getting paid for it than at home.  With the shutdown coming this spring I should be able to pick up some overtime easily enough.  Perhaps not quite at the level I was getting a year or two ago but I'll take what I can get.  I'm not one of those people who simply came here to make "hockey sacks of money", to use the phrase of the Edmonton police chief that I alluded to in a recent post.  I came to make a life for myself.  My son was born here and of course, I bought my first house here.  The mortgage on said house is up for renewal in a couple months, just to make life interesting.  But again, I like to keep a level head and think long term.  Whining and griping about the situation or about Fort McMurray as perhaps some are wont to do,  doesn't really solve anything in the long term.

For the curious, I know it costs Suncor $37-and-change to produce a barrel of oil.  I don't have the exact figure but I know its between $37 and $38.  So selling currently at a little under $50/barrel, they don't make loads of cash like they did when the price was over $100, but they stil make something.  If it drops below the $37 threshold, things will get interesting but as I mentioned in my previous post, they have other products on the market like diesel to help smooth out the bumps in the road, at least for the short term.  

One good thing about living in town is that I expect locals will have an easier time of this than those in camp.  I've already heard stories of cuts being made to camp and I know that within my own trade that first year apprentices will no longer have the camp option.  It just makes better business sense to have people from town in times like this.  Suncor saves money on camp costs.  I keep working.  And everyone is happy.  The area I work in is important for the overall maintenance of the upgrading area in which I play my own small part.  I suspect that oil would have to drop quite drastically before the yard I work in shuts down.    Pretty much every other trade on site needs scaffolders to do their job.  Unless the work is right at ground level (and most often it isn't) everyone from insulators to pipe fitters to mechanics to welders to electricians often needs scaffolding erected in order to do their job.  Another fortunate thing is that with tenants I can absorb some of the extra costs of potentially working less hours.  (There have been a couple times where this has been a big help.)  They also serve as further sources of information about the happenings at both Suncor and Syncrude, the two big players in this industry.

Of course, while this is my first experience here with a downturn, this is far from the first time this has happened here.   I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit concerned but I'm not in any sort of freak out mode either.  I don't mean to sound like an expert on this entire issue.  I certainly am not.  Perhaps the best that can be said is that I intend to weather the storm, keep my ear to the ground and be smart about things.....and stay positive too.

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