Pandemic restrictions hit mega-projects

Mega-projects that employed more than 12,000 in 2020 forced to scale back to less than 1,500

The Cedar Valley Lodge in Kitimat will house up to 4,500 workers at the LNG Canada construction site at peak construction. | ATCO

Four major energy projects that employed roughly 12,500 people earlier this year are being forced to send workers home, as per the orders of provincial health officer Bonnie Henry.

At the end of December, Henry ordered a drastic scaling back of workers at the LNG Canada project in Kitimat, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline projects and Site C dam, in response to a series of COVID-19 outbreaks at work sites and work camps.

Henry’s order also affects a tunnel twinning project at Rio Tinto’s aluminum smelter in Kitimat.

“There has been a rapid increase in the number of persons infected with COVID-19 associated with large scale industrial projects employing high numbers of workers which are located within the Northern Health Authority region,” the order, issued December 29, states.

“This increase has resulted in increased numbers of clusters of people with COVID-19, outbreaks of COVID-19, the transmission of COVID-19 to surrounding communities, including Indigenous communities, increasing the risk of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, and deaths in the Northern Health Authority region.”

Site C dam is already facing some fairly serious potential cost increases as a result of both geotechnical issues and pandemic restrictions earlier in 2020 that BC Hydro has warned will add delays and costs to the project. Pressure is mounting on the John Horgan government to cancel the project altogether.Horgan's response to a review that he ordered on Site C dam is expected in the coming days or weeks.

Henry has ordered the major projects to scale back their work forces to skeleton crews. In total, the five projects must start the new year with no more than 1,460.

The Site C dam project and Coastal GasLink projects will be starting the post-holiday period with 400 workers each. The LNG Canada project will be starting with a baseline of 450 workers, and will be allowed to ramp up to 1,100 by the end of January.

The Trans Mountain project will be starting with a baseline of 50 workers. Earlier in December, Trans Mountain had voluntarily ordered a work stoppage after a series of workplace injuries.

The provincial health officer has set out schedules for how many workers can be recalled over the coming weeks. Between late January and mid-February the total workforce for those five projects will be slightly more than 5,000 – less than half the work force that was employed in the summer.

Some of those projects would have seen a shrinking of its work force as winter set in.

“The current seasonal slow-down in large-scale industrial operations provides an opportunity to help break the cycle of transmission of COVID-19 associated with them,” the public health order states.