Workers and companies left in limbo after Trans Mountain pipeline ruling

Workers and companies who were set to be employed on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion have been left wondering where they stand as construction on the project begins to shut down.

Ryan Bruce, director of government and public relations for the union CLAC, said some of the workers were sent home after the Federal Court of Appeal ruling quashed Ottawa's approval of the pipeline expansion on Thursday.

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The workers will come back for a meeting with their employers early next week to talk about next steps as the situation unfolds, he said.

"Official layoff notices have not been issued yet but we're waiting to hear what happens next week," said Bruce.

Construction on parts of the western end of the pipeline began three days ago, he added. But it was stopped after the ruling was handed down.

"Our members were happy to be working," Bruce said. "They were expecting long-term employment on the project and to wake up Thursday morning and hear the news on the radio — that the decision came down the way it did was a surprise to all of us."

In an email, Trans Mountain said the pipeline had more than 2,000 people working on it, and by the middle of next year it was expected 5,000 people would have been employed.

Two Fort St. John companies, Surerus Pipeline and Macro Industries, are involved in joint ventures selected to build segments of the expansion in B.C.'s Interior.

Macro's portion of the work with JV partner Spiecapag Canada Corp., involved 85 kilometres of pipeline to be built along the Coquihalla-Hope corridor. That work was valued at $375 million, and was expected to last two years.

"At this point we don’t know any more than what the news is saying," President Frank Miles said in an email Thursday.

In Macro's second quarter results released last week, two days before the court ruling, the company noted it was continuing discussions with stakeholders and waiting for its notice to proceed. "The exact timing on this project is not determinable at this time," the company reported.

Surerus shares a 50 per cent stake with London-based J. Murphy & Sons in the Surerus Murphy Joint Venture, selected to build 180 kilometres of pipeline between Black Pines and Merritt. 

President Sean Surerus could not be reached for comment earlier this week, but has previously called Trans Mountain the "backbone" to the company's growth.

Both companies are working on the $1.4-billion North Montney gas mainline under construction in Northeast B.C., and have been selected to build portions of the $4.8-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline to Kitimat, pending a positive final investment decision for the LNG Canada project.

Uncertain time for skilled workers

Richard Masson, an executive fellow at the University of Calgary's school of public policy and former head of the Petroleum Marketing Association, said these are uncertain times for skilled workers because there are few projects in the oil sands.

"Those guys will be sitting at home waiting for something else to come along," he said. "There is nothing as big as this."

Masson said shutting down the project will also have a ripple effect on the economy. A lot of young people are usually employed in the sector and they are starting up households, buying recreational equipment, and going on trips, but now they will have to watch their spending.

David Hoff, a spokesman for Ledcor Industries Inc., said the Kiewit Ledcor Trans Mountain Partnership is working closely with Trans Mountain to suspend construction activities in a safe and orderly manner. The partnership was formed to build the Lower Mainland portions of the project, which includes the last 35 kilometres of the pipeline from Langley to Burnaby

Brian Cochrane, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115, which represents 11,000 B.C. members in heavy-equipment operations, said he was disappointed in the ruling.

"Every three days something new used to happen with this project over the last few months," he said. "This project has seen more changes over the last six months than any major project across the country ever."

Because it was early in the project, he said a handful of workers were scattered around the province. He expected at least 3,000 workers would have been hired if construction continued.

"These jobs pay mortgages and feed families," Cochrane said.

"Pipelining is a transient workforce so we've got a number of folks from right across the country who were certainly looking forward to coming to work on this project." 

— with Alaska Highway News files

@ Copyright 2018 Pipeline News North

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