Northern Alberta Métis community launches seven new oil sands partnerships to boost economic opportunity

About 150 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, the Conklin region is responsible for nearly 1/3 of oil sands production

By Mario Toneguzzi
L-R (seated): Great Northern Bridgeworks president Steve Ross, Enviromulch Mulching & Logging superintendent Phil Mamers, Lynco Energy Services owner Doug Golosky, Surerus Murphy Joint Venture chairman Sean Surerus, Brothers HDD owner Jamie McClennon, Gateway Mechanical Services account executive Dean Seiz, Dorval O & M Services owner Brent Dorval (sitting in for Global Fusion Coating general manager Chad Olsen). L-R (standing): CRDAC directors Stacey Atkinson, Valerie Quintal, Shirley Tremblay, Margaret Quintal, and Grace Richards. Photo courtesy CRDAC

The predominantly Métis community of Conklin has launched seven new business partnerships in a bid to lift its opportunities in one of Alberta’s busiest oil sands regions.

From drilling to heavy machinery and pipelines, the new ventures will bring an economic and social boost to the community of 300 residents about 150 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray.

“We’d like to focus more on getting local opportunities such as training, employment, maybe some subcontracting, to build the local businesses up and build our people up for local employment,” said Valerie Quintal, president of Conklin Métis Local 193.

“We are going to be planning with each one of them how we could better serve our community members.”

Quintal is also a director of the Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee (CRDAC), which brokered the deals with companies including Brothers HDD, Gateway Mechanical Services and Surerus-Murphy Joint Venture.

CRDAC was established in 2008 to help the community engage with growing oil sands development in the Conklin region, said CEO Scott Duguid.

The area has become a hub for development using a technology called steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), which involves drilling horizontal well pairs and steam injection to produce oil sands crude.

“It was really developed when a lot of the SAGD development was in the application or the environment assessment phase and there was a huge push for regulatory consultation and engagement with government on regulatory applications for SAGD,” he said.

Métis cultural heritage is displayed alongside a map of development activity in the Conklin region. Photo courtesy CRDAC

The area around Conklin is now home to six major oil sands projects owned by the industry’s biggest producers. This includes Cenovus Energy’s Christina Lake facility, the largest so-called “in situ” project in the oil sands.

As of January 2024, the region produced more than 550,000 barrels per day, or nearly one-third of all oil sands production, according to the Alberta Energy Regulator.

CRDAC has partnerships in place with the big players in the region including Cenovus, Canadian Natural Resources and MEG Energy, Duguid said (including a unique home construction program with Cenovus).

But the new ventures take opportunity to the next layer, with companies that service or work for oil sands producers, he said.

Duguid said the group has partnerships in place with the big players in the region such as Cenovus, MEG, CNRL, and Harvest.

“There’s a fair amount of wealth being generated in the region and out of the South Athabasca oilsands. There’s a lot of work happening,” said Duguid.

“We as sort of a community representative organization are trying to put our hands up with some of these smaller industry players and saying ‘hey, we’re here, we have community members, we have a potential workforce, we may need training, we may need some capacity to ensure that our residents can be meaningfully employed, but we can work with you and for you.’”

The hope is that partnering with these mid-level businesses will provide an opportunity for grassroots Conklin businesses to grow, he said.

Some of the revenue from the partnerships will come back to the community to support social programs such as healthcare, housing, and substance abuse treatment.

“It’s hugely significant for the community,” Duguid said.

Gateway Mechanical Services’ Dean Seiz said the company reached out to CRDAC last year to see if they would be interested in a working relationship.

“Basically, the long-term goal is to see if there are any community members that would be interested in maybe getting into the trades that Gateway does,” Seiz said.

The company, with its head office in Edmonton, provides heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing and refrigeration services across Western Canada. It has nine locations for regional offices with about 275 technicians.

“It’s a work in progress with Scott [Duguid] and the community to see what’s important to the community to make things work,” Seiz said.

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