June 30, 2014 0 Comments Experience Working in Alberta's Oilfield

From the Oil Patch to Edmonton: Month 4

It’s been now 4 months since I left the Service Rigs and moved onto Edmonton. My original intention was to find the job offering the most hours possible to buy myself time (and funds) to finish my Class 1, as well as move to the town I’ve always wanted to live in since I came to Alberta.


My reasons for coming to Edmonton were because it is one of the best bases in Canada:

– boon for trades/related work absent from the omniscient oversaturation that persists in most university-graduate fields; as a last resort if school doesn’t work out can find work somewhere and florish into the trade/skill(s), for which can eventually be used to make a fortune up north in the oilsands.

– manageable living expenses; certainly not the cheapest but with sufficient financial planning and a working heart, doable.

– close proximity to Fort McMurray, the economic powerhouse of the province and perhaps even Canada. Many companies offering flights to Edmonton.

– Houses NAIT- a good college offering useful programs, especially Power Engineering

– much less lonely than the smaller oil towns; good gender balance and social life.


Moving here at first was a struggle to find a place to live. Living in hotels and eating out at first quickly bled around $1000. Other heavy financial hits I took were:

– Bed and mattress: $670 approx.

– Driver’s license: $90-100 approx. to transfer from BC

– Dresser and drawer: $300 approx.

– Vacuum cleaner, dishes, boxes for packing food, utensils, etc.



At first I tried to rent a one bedroom apartment, but landlords I came across refused to rent to a young person without a co-signer (I was 20). I said I had good credit, income, and references, but still no-go. I eventually ended up renting a room in a new  condo. They didn’t need a damage deposit, which was a bonus because I had issues in the past with landlords spending it on cleaning services or taking as long as 2 months to pay it back after moving out.


Finding work took only 3 business days, as I’ve had experience with finding jobs when I really need them and always have managed to come on top. I ended up in Construction. I specifically opted for this company as they are busy and thus have overtime opportunities. I was expecting to net about $4000 a month, more with luck. Unfortunately as the rain settled in, this promise of many hours grinded to a halt and my income dramatically reduced, and I realized that hours also depend on who I was working with- I only made as much as I liked providing whoever ran that site also wanted to work that much. I was plunged into a negative cash-flow situation very quickly. You also have to deal with some strange characters at work sometimes and it can become quite annoying.


Edmonton itself is nowhere as fruitful as Vancouver (where I’m originally from), but it is a huge improvement in convenience and livelihood over the smaller oil towns I’ve worked in. There is a bit more to do and look at, but still makes me missing the extensive nature and food of Vancouver. Living expenses here are on the high side; I find it difficult to spend under $400/month on groceries, and I rarely buy junk food- usually only healthy essentials such as meat/fish, juice, milk, etc., though I strictly ensure I get 1g/lb. of protein and my apples and vegetables. The habit of grabbing a drink and snack or two at the convenience store can easily add $100-200/month to your living expenses.


Talking to the people here, there is definitely a difference compared to the ones you meet in the oil towns. Here people are more tempted to talk about the things they like doing, and they work in certain jobs because they like them. It seems like the culture is less money-driven, though you’ll still hear advice to get into the trades to make money.


There is also somewhat of a gender balance, though I feel most of the girls in the bars only stick to their own cliques and you have to be “hot” to grab their attention. My co-workers and I usually go to Whyte Ave. clubs and bars, but we find that the young girls there are usually there just to drink with their own friends rather than get to know you. Somewhat like Vancouver, but nowhere as bad.  Nevertheless I’m here for work and really I shouldn’t be dating as at this point of my life- I should be making as much money as possible, so I wasn’t too bothered. One little thought at the back of my head, though, was to be less lonely than I was working in the smaller oil towns. I don’t picture this happening anytime soon, but I think some things were just not meant to happen.


As for my current objective: right now I’m still working on my Class 1 license, and have the road test in a couple weeks. I hope to find a related job quickly as soon as I’m done, as my drop in income is making it difficult to advance. Fort McMurray camp job with a 14/7 or longer rotation would be ideal, as I should be able to net $6000-7000/month easily with a $30+/hour wage and 12-hour days.  Camp would drop my immediate living expenses to zero through the duration of my work shift. This should allow me to save $3000-4000/month, so within a year I should be financially much more secure in my own condo/house and some cash for my then my next goal: school for Power Engineering, and to take it to Fort McMurray. Spending an additional year would be even more advantageous, as then I would have more cash to play with in the stock market.


Optimism overall is moderate- My work situation is becoming unstable as my income has been severely eroded for the past 6 weeks. I also under performed at my last task and messed up some ground, so I do have some worries that I may be out of (some, if not all) work. On the bright side, I sense I will be much more useful in the oil and gas industry now that I become skilled with the Class 1 license, but finding a camp job with good hours and rotation may be an initial struggle, especially with minimal experience. Even if I do find a Fort McMurray job, I also realize I’ll still significantly be much lower than the average household income there: approx. $190k/year (though many of the households are with a wife/girl working part-time), which may suggest there are better routes I could be taking. Precisely this is why I opted for the Power Engineering route, as operators are very valuable up there. My concern is that I already failed 3 times to get into school for it. I will keep trying, but if all else fails I may have to take a different route. Trucking is a good initial gig, but in the long run the money seems to be in the trades…


Money and work aside, my last concern is love. It seems like the oil patch is home to countless horror stories of cheating women and large child support and alimony payments. It seems like working long hours away from home has become the recipe for disaster. I myself already have a lengthy history of women I’ve been seeing in the past who run off to other men. So far I’ve been lucky enough that I wasn’t in something long enough to be financially burdened, except for one particular date where she deleted her online account and her phone number became only an answering machine, after I bought her a dinner. Fort McMurray doesn’t have a very good gender balance either, and it is riddled with gold digger stories. To summarize, I’m still young so my primary objective is to make as much money and experience as possible, but I live an unsustainable lifestyle, and I wonder about the long-term implications of such on love, as I know the loneliness will catch up eventually.