Alberta to recruit American war vets to work in oilsands

Employees tour the Cenovus Foster Creek SAGD oil sands operations near Cold Lake, Alberta.

Credits: REUTERS/Todd Korol


CALGAR Y— Alberta is seeking to recruit an army of oilsands workers — literally.

The province is on the march to attract thousands of demobilized U.S. military personnel to help develop what's been touted as Canada's economic engine for coming decades, the oilsands.

The project's success would also act as a goodwill gesture for Canada's controversial oilsands, said Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes.

"We're trying to understand how we could produce employment opportunities for American service people returning from overseas," Hughes said Friday. "I've detected some interest in the States."

The mission has attracted the attention of U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson and the encouragement of the U.S.'s former consul general in Calgary, Laura Lochman, said Hughes.

Hughes said there are a half-million unemployed or underemployed younger military veterans in the U.S. — a force that could be tapped to satisfy a chronically-hungry energy industry in Alberta.

"These are a lot of fairly highly-disciplined Americans, some of whom would have skills, presumably, for the oil industry," he said. "Ever since the Dingman well discovery in 1914, we've never had enough human resources and capital of our own to develop the oil industry."

Forecasts conducted on the labour needs of Alberta's energy sector range greatly, with one study stating the province could be short 130,000 workers within seven years.

"That's one of the greatest constraints we face in developing the oilsands," said Hughes.

The minister said he plans to lead a team into the U.S. sometime next year to scout out recruitment opportunities among military vets.

He said such a contingent of military petroleum workers would also help sell the oilsands to an America that's shown some reluctance to accept its bitumen and the pipelines that would supply it.

"It helps bring a personal story home to the U.S. about the importance Canada has in supplying them with oil and it helps build good will in America, which is something we could use," said Hughes.

Concerns over the welfare of U.S. military personnel returning from overseas — particularly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — have been growing in the U.S.

Among the challenges they face are homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder and unemployment in a country still struggling with an unemployment rate of around 8%.

But Hughes also said Canada's in a labour competition with a newly-flourishing U.S. oilpatch.
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