Oil workers in limbo as prices fall

Countless local residents have developed careers in northern Alberta in recent years

Plummeting oil prices are making waves in the North Okanagan.

Countless local residents have developed careers in northern Alberta as oil prices skyrocketed, but now that the market continues to fall, there are concerns some will be coming home without paycheques.

“There’s an immediate job loss that’s rippling through,” said Kevin Poole, Vernon’s economic development manager.

Recently, Suncor Energy announced it was laying off 1,000 workers, while Shell Canada is reducing 300 jobs at its Athabasca oil sands operation.

Many oil sector workers have opted to have their primary home in the Okanagan and while here, they have pumped their salaries into home purchases, vehicles, restaurants and other services.

To keep up with the demand from workers to head north, WestJet initiated flights between Kelowna International Airport and Fort McMurray, Alta. in May 2014.

Poole isn’t sure how many local residents could be negatively impacted by the current downturn in the oil patch.

“It can definitely impact the local economy.”

Beyond that, there could be other influences.

“There are second home owners and semi-retirees from Alberta who have done well in the oil industry and we’re looking to move to the Okanagan and this could impact their plans,” said Poole.

Some North Okanagan-based contracting companies have also done significant work in northern Alberta and the oil slump could impact the revenue stream.

However, Poole is convinced the North Okanagan could benefit from other economic trends, including the low Canadian dollar and decreasing gasoline prices.

“We are enticing American dollars back to the Okanagan,” he said of people hitting the road for vacations.

While the North Okanagan may take a hit from the oil industry’s challenges, Poole is confident the local economy will remain on a positive trend.

“Diversity is always the key. We are strong in the agricultural sector and technology is growing,” he said.