EnCana man-camp proposal meeting in Big Piney
Reporter’s Notes: No widespread opposition from public
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
October 13, 2007
About thirty people showed up for a meeting on Thursday night at the Big Piney Library to discuss the request by EnCana to construct and operate a worker camp on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property near its natural gas production operations in the Jonah Field.
The meeting was organized by Riley and Dan Alexander, owner/operators of Mountain Village Parks, a business that runs a worker camp facility about two miles south of Big Piney. This was the second of two meetings about this topic. The first meeting was held the evening before at Rendezvous Pointe in Pinedale. Riley Alexander said they had received many phone calls from people concerned about the proposal. Neither the BLM or EnCana had arranged any kind of meeting to address public concerns, so the Alexanders took it upon themselves to host these two meetings. EnCana representatives were on hand at both meetings to answer questions and explain what they want to do.
With all the pre-meeting advertising the Alexanders had done with radio ads, newspaper ads and “Community Alert” direct mailings, it appeared their position was asking the public to oppose EnCana’s proposal because it would compete with their private business providing the same service.
At the meeting, however, this turned out not to be the case. The Alexanders gave a brief overview of comments they had heard from people calling them concerned over the project, including raising the point about potential competition with their Mountain Village camp. But when asked by Pinedale Online if this project was going to directly negatively impact their worker camp business, both Riley and Dan said no, not really. They will reorganize how things are arranged a bit, and they already have someone else interested in moving in when/if EnCana's people leave. Riley Alexander said they will probably see a 10 to 15% reduction for about two to three months, then they expect it to come back up again and they’ll be fine. Dan Alexander said they will adjust and ups and downs are all part of the business. Both indicated they did not feel moving the EnCana man-camp would significantly impact their business or result in a huge personal financial loss for them.
The Alexanders had paid for newspaper and radio advertising putting out a “Community Alert” asking citizens to come to the meetings and to contact the BLM and oppose the proposal by saying, “You already have adequate housing in the existing private man camps in the county, if you want your own man camps, pay for the land, or stay where you’re at! Don’t expect the tax payers to give it to you basically for free!” They continued their community alert with, “If you are so concerned about emissions, saving energy, and the lack of safety caused by the traffic on Hwy 351 and 191, try busing your workers.”
When asked to explain the apparent mixed message about their advertising asking people to write the BLM to oppose the project, and their comments at the meeting not being in opposition to the proposal, Riley said they were responding to other people’s comments who had said they had these concerns (traffic, environmental concerns, competition with local businesses) and felt they needed to be publicly addressed.
During the meeting Paul Ulrich, EnCana Community liaison, explained that their main reason for wanting the worker camp, “plain and simple, is safety.” Crews work 12-hour shifts on a 7-days-on/7-days-off schedule. Factor in 2- to 2-1/2 hours of commute time back and forth, and that mcan make a 15- to 16-hour day for many employees. By the time they are done with meals, they end up with 5 to 6 hours of sleep. The company believes that having the living quarters near the gas field would cut travel time significantly and allow workers to get more sleep and be safer employees.
Pinedale Online asked if lack of sleep is such a huge safety issue, why not change the work shifts from 12-hours/day down to fewer hours or three 8-hour shifts a day? The answer came out loudly and clearly, from the operators and people in the audience who work in the industry: "MONEY!". Neither the company or, apparently the workers, want to work 8-hour shifts so they can get more sleep. The workers who do this work are used to these long shifts, and like it because they can make a lot of money in a short amount of time. They then get large blocks of off-time to go home to their families, who often are living in other states holding down the family life side of things. Reducing shift hours would mean it would be harder for companies to find staff for three shifts per day and the workers wouldn’t be making the big money they want to. “Three shifts would cut their pay by 33%”.
This was not debated at the meeting, but it raises the question that the big ‘safety issues’ created by lack of sleep for workers is really a “self-imposed hardship” that is sanctioned by the companies, and workers go along with it, because everyone makes a lot of money working ongoing shifts to keep working 24-hour days. The strong desire for the high earnings compels both workers and operators to push the limits of worker endurance and inflict the safety lapse issues on themselves and the surrounding public. “The rig hands don’t want to work 8-hour shifts,” said one man. “They are here because they can make the money and then go home.” Another man said, “You will literally shut the oil field down if you try and get these guys to work 8-hour shifts.”
EnCana spokespeople said they did not expect the worker camp to result in significant decreases in traffic on US 191 or Highway 351 because a lot of the traffic is heavy truck traffic not related to the workers who will be using this camp. EnCana is targeting the people working 12-hour shifts in 24-hour per day operations. They expect to have between 150-200 bed occupancy at first, not the full 350 they are asking for. It is also possible they will rent other beds out for nightly or longer stays, making money on the available extra beds they aren’t using.
Several people spoke out in favor of the proposal. One praised EnCana for taking some of the burden and stress off the towns. Another person compared the request to rancher's grazing allotment uses as part of their cattle businesses. It was pointed out that putting the workers closer to their job site would reduce the potential for travel accidents and the time it takes to traveling to and from work.
Only one couple spoke out at the Big Piney meeting against the EnCana mancamp proposal, pointing out that it didn’t seem fair a large gas company could “camp” on BLM land in places where the public isn’t allowed to. No one else in the audience spoke out strongly against the worker camp idea.
At the end of the meeting, Pinedale Online asked if there was anyone in the audience that night who was there because they felt their business would be negatively financially impacted by the EnCana worker camp proposal? No one responded.
According to Caleb Hiner with the BLM, there was “good conversation” about the proposal at the Pinedale meeting the night before at Rendezvous Pointe, but little opposition.
We asked Hiner how much EnCana would be asked to pay for the worker camp lease right? He said he didn’t know the exact number, but thought $10,000 per year lease was ballpark.
The project has been fast tracked because EnCana wants to start getting the camp set up as soon as possible because winter is almost here. Ulrich said they need to get their facilities shifted before November 1st, before the ground gets hard.
The public has until Monday, October 15th to comment on the proposal. Comments should be addressed to:
BLM Pinedale Field Office
1625 West Pine Street
P.O. Box 768
Pinedale, WY 82941
For more information on the proposed EnCana worker camp, call Caleb Hiner at (307) 367-5352.