CNRL ( Canadian Natural Resources Limited)  - Tar Sands

Camp Life

Our company got a piece of the huge tar sands project going on several hundred miles north of  of Calgary.
I needed to go up for a couple weeks for meetings and to conduct some training.
This is as far north as I have ever been on the North American continent.

Staff quarters were pretty nice.  You have your own shower and TV.  The food was quite good.

A lot of snow up there.  This was looking out from the security office, where you get your badge and other

This is a picture of one of the man camps.  There are somewhere around 12-13 thousand people working
at this particular site.  The crew is transported by school bus and are housed in that is the equivalent of
college dorms.

Getting up to go to work in the mornings looks something like this most times.

Looking out from the main office one views just part of the plant.  The part we have involves removing
sulfur and other impurities from the processed oil.

All this pipe is built in a fabrication yard and then shipped in as modules.

It's amazing how much work can be accomplished in some of the most frigid conditions.  Not much
shuts the job down.

This area is part of a laydown yard, where materials are stored.  

How would you like to be out surveying in these conditions?

I have never seen this many cranes on a job.  A HRSG is being constructed in the background.

I think this is a flaring tower.

Huge pieces of equipment on this job.

A vessel is being lifted into  position.

And it's almost there.  The person in the safety vest gives you an idea how large
this stuff is.

Apparently, this is the fifth largest construction project  area-wise in the world, and it  is the
largest in terms of equipment.

It is an impressive site.

What is it like working at CNRL or  Man Camps in General?

Camp life is not for everyone and accommodations vary from camp to camp, and how high you are up on the
food chain.

Work Duration

Shifts are generally long, 20 on and 10 off is the norm.  There are other variations on this but 20 and 10 is by
far the most popular.  Air travel to and from the work site is company paid and it eats into your days off one day
on each side so for all intents and purposes you actually only have eight days off at home.
Most sites in northern Alberta will require you to make at least three flight connections and it will take at least 10
hours of travel time.  You'd better like flying.  


Accommodations for craft are generally in the form of college dorm rooms, where there are at least two people
to a room.  Bathrooms are generally shared.  If you are a foreman or a super, sometimes you get your own room
and your own shower and bathroom.  Usually these are Jack in Jill though.

Accommodations for staff are better - one person per room with their own bath and shower.  Some of these are
jack and Jill too.

Dining is mess hall style.  Some dining areas are better than others.  

Some camps allow alcohol and others are dry.  There is no going into town after work for a quick beer or two,
or  going to a steak house to get a real dinner.

A Typical Day

0400 - Get up, take a shower and get dressed.
0430 - Eat breakfast and brown bag a lunch
0530 - Get on a school bus with about 50 other people and travel to the job site.
0600 -  Tool box meeting, morning stretch and flex, plan of the day
0630 - Start work
0900 - Break
1200 - Brown bag lunch
1230 - Continue work.
1500 - Break
1630 - Knock off work and clean up.
1700 - Take the bus back to site.
1730 - Change into something more comfortable
1800 - Eat dinner
1900 - 2100 - Relax, read, exercise (most places have gyms), watch tv.
2100 - 2200 - Go to sleep  (no noise after 2200)
- Get up, take a shower and get dressed.

Repeat this for 20 days in a row, then spend 1-2 hours getting to the first airport and then the rest of the day

Oh, and you'd better prepare yourself for flights like this every month or two.

This kind of a schedule is not for everyone, including me.  I did 17 days straight once and after the 14th day I
was pretty much worthless.  I could probably to a 15 and 6 or something like that, but I would rather not.

Other Notes

If you have DUI's or other offenses, you can have some real trouble getting work across the border.  
This seems to be on a case by case basis.   I've known some people who have had DUI's (usually from their
college days) who have been denied work because of same, and then been admitted for work.  Once you've
been admitted you generally have no trouble crossing the border again.

Canada is a bit more socialistic than the US and working conditions reflect that.  Not saying it is a bad thing,
just different.

Taxes can be a problem.  Ensure you get some tax help if you are a US citizen working in Canada.  
One of the recommended ways is to form your own corporation or LLC, listing you as the sole employee.
Again, get help with taxes and look into this carefully.  Another way to do this is to use the services of a body
shop.  Bluewater comes to mind.  They and others can be a huge help when it comes to taxation.

Canada has much the same problem we have when it comes to finding experienced help.  It is a major problem.
What this means to you is if you think you can handle camp life and the above work schedules and you are
competent at what you do, there is more work up there for longer than you will ever need it.

Which brings to mind something else - if you do get hired on, make every effort to fulfill whatever obligations
you have made.  Even if the job you get truly sucks, make every effort to stick it out and not quit or walk away.
Better ones will come.  If you are from the states, work up there a couple weeks and decide you can't hack it
and quit.......don't plan on getting another job up there at a later date.  You may, but odds are you will not.
These companies spend a lot of money getting you hired, trained, accommodated, transported and so on.
They want to see a return on their investment  and are not happy if their investment walks away prematurely.

If you have any specific questions,  I will answer what I can.  One of these days I will put up some pics and info
from a SAGD project, which is interesting as well.

The Professional Perspective

This is commentary more loosely based on my experiences up in the Great White North from 2006 - 2008 but the same applies to the lower 48 as well considering the drubbing anyone in the blue collar industry gets from the media these days.

It is a miracle we are as successful as we are.