CALGARY — About 200 Petro-Canada workers across Alberta are being laid off, the latest victims of faltering energy prices that have crippled development in the once booming oilsands industry.
The permanent, full-time employees worked on the $24-billion Fort Hills oilsands project north of Fort McMurray, which was shelved late last year, said spokeswoman Kelli Stevens.
“As time goes on there’s just simply less and less work to do there,” she said.
“We’re in a situation now where we have more people than we have work for them to do, and we’ve had to do something about that.”
As many people as possible were redirected to other projects, she said. Most of those who lost their jobs were based in Calgary and Fort McMurray, although a few were from other communities.
She stressed that the layoffs are in no way related to the company’s pending merger with Suncor (TSX:SU).
The job losses are a drop in the bucket compared to overall cuts so far by the oilsands industry, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
“These are not the first layoffs in the oilsands and they certainly won’t be the last,” he said. “We think it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
About 12,000 front-line oilsands employees are currently looking for work, McGowan said. The cuts have followed a dramatic plunge that has seen oil lose two-thirds of its value from record highs last summer.
“Petro-Canada is not the only major energy company that has postponed or cancelled a major oilsands project, so my guess is that other companies are either in the process of making similar layoffs or contemplating them in the near future,” McGowan said.
“Six months from now, the figure of 200 job losses will probably seem like small potatoes compared to what we will see.”
McGowan said $22 billion was spent on oilsands construction last year and there had been grand plans for another $24 billion in spending this year. The economic downturn shrunk that figure closer to $6 billion.