Edam – The village of Edam located on Highway 26 about 60 kilometres north of North Battleford is hoping to tap into growth from the construction of four thermal heavy oil plants in the area.
Plans are underway to provide more housing for young families to offset the effects of the current downturn in oil and gas prices.
“There is high unemployment right now. A tremendous number of people are laid off,” said Mayor Larry McDaid on an April 24 tour of the community.
“Most people have employment insurance so they have some income. Most haven’t left, but I would say some have.”
The priority project is the development of a 28-lot subdivision on the northwest end of Edam to accommodate families that will be employed at the new thermal plants.
“Each plant is supposed to have about 20 full-time employees. Those could end up living here,” said McDaid.
“The status is that we’re probably putting in the sewer system, the power, phone and gas in this summer.
“We are not sure yet whether we are going to do it through a developer or whether we’re going to do it on our own. It’s very expensive.”
The village could even seek some financial assistance from the Rural Municipality of Turtle River where the new steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) plants are located.
“It will make no difference to the taxation of Edam, but to the RM of Turtle River it will be a huge tax base,” said McDaid.
“That should roughly translate into 80 full time jobs.”
Husky Energy is constructing two 10,000 barrels a day thermal facilities called Edam East and Vawn and a 3,500 bpd steam Edam West project.
All of these SAGD projects are slated to start up throughout 2016.
In addition, Husky’s 10,000 bpd Rush Lake SAGD project near Paynton is set to begin commercial operation by the end of 2015.
A 6,000 bpd SAGD project by Serafina Energy Ltd. near Vawn is also being constructed south of Edam and is expected to come on stream in 2016.
All of these new SAGD construction projects are within a 12 kilometre radius of Edam.
“It`s bringing workers into the area. I don`t know how many from our area are working there though,” said McDaid.
“It’s a boom to somebody obviously, but I don’t know anybody local working there.”
The Edam East and Vawn projects south of the village would each require up to 400 workers at peak construction according to a report by Husky in Jan. 2014.
“It is very specialized construction. It has meant work for the sand and gravel people – the earth movers,” said McDaid.
Local oilfield service companies like Garry’s Construction, Arnold’s Sand & Gravel, Severs Oilfield Services and Racken Enterprises are vying for a share of work while hoping the boom times return soon.
“There have been times when we’ve had over 100 workers going out of Edam every morning,” recalled McDaid about the past couple of years.
“They’re not all living in Edam, but they come from North Battleford and Glaslyn.
“They come to the shops here then head out every morning, so they are eating here and a lot of them are banking here so it’s a big thing for the town.”
Existing worker accommodations include the Rendezvous Hotel and the year-round Drop Anchor RV Park for oilfield crews.
“A lot people drive out from North Battleford and they park their vehicles at the park and they get on a bus. They are not allowed to take their vehicles on the sites,” said McDaid.
work camp being set on in the area, but no one has taken out permit at the village office.
The village sold its last four housing lots this year and is hoping a new 26-unit assisted living home called Edam Enriched Manor will free up some housing.
As of April 24, only seven units had been rented since the facility opened in December as a non-profit corporation.
“The thinking was that as people move out of their homes into the assisted living home, that all of those houses would come up for sale,” said McDaid.
“Of course, with the downturn it`s a bad time to be selling your house. We haven’t attracted many seniors yet, but we’re hoping it’s going to happen.”
There is a marketing push underway since the village and the RM are paying for the operation of the available units for 55-plus adults until they are rented out.
The project fits the character of Edam as being a great place to live, raise a family and retire.
“There are a lot of young families in Edam. The school population has actually gone up a bit,” said McDaid. It’s also somewhat of a bedroom community.
“For years, we’ve had people who’ve worked in Battleford and driven home every night,” said McDaid.
He said the current volume of oilfield traffic on Hwy. 26 is putting pressure on the Ministry of Highways and Transportation to rebuild it.
“The big trucks have an awful time getting any speed on it,” said McDaid.
A committee is working on a bridge proposal to take the place of the Paynton ferry as a short cut south to Highway 16.
“It would really save these roads as well,” said McDaid.
The ferry hasn’t run for two years after the road on the Paynton side of the North Saskatchewan River slumped down the hill. They started rebuilding it late last summer and it slumped again.
The village has its own truck bypass for heavy oilfield and construction traffic that is on the rise as the SAGD projects ramp up.
“There are rumours CN Rail has thought about putting some track back in to move some of this oil,” said McDaid, who is a retired high school teacher.
He has been in Edam since 1970 and has seen a lot of ups and downs in the oil and gas industry over the years.
“It was going in the 80s. It`s just gotten bigger and bigger as the years have gone on,” he said.
“I personally worked for Arnold`s Sand & Gravel in the early 2000s and it was hard to get enough men to keep up.
“Then, of course, we had the downturn in 2006, not like this one, but it was a downturn, and then it picked up again.”
He fears what impact the SAGD facilities might have on service companies in town.
“They may be shutting down a lot of wells and just concentrating on the small areas where they are injecting. We don`t know,” he said.
Right now, he says heavy oil is being lifted by progressive cavity (PC) pumps and trucked to batteries.
Husky is expanding its south Saskatchewan gathering system to pipe thermal oil from the new SAGD plants to a main sales oil pipeline distribution system in the region that could impact services.
“When you have the oil wells scattered all around, every one of them needs a road,” said McDaid.
“The roads have to be built so we’ve got people here who can build the roads and gravel the roads.
“In the wintertime they have to be plowed. In the spring and fall when it’s wet, trucks have to be towed so it`s a big business.
“Of course, every one of these wells has to be checked every day, so there are the operators going out every day.
“Once it’s concentrated in four or five steam injection sites, a lot of that might disappear. We don’t know of course, but it’s logical to think that.”
McDaid points to support from local oil companies for helping to raise funds for a $3 million rebuild of the curling and hockey rink into the Edam Community Centre a few years ago.
“We sold naming rights to the kitchen, bar, the hall itself. A lot of windows have people’s names on them,” said McDaid.
“We’ve done a lot of things that other towns our size just don’t have the money to do.
“We’ve had some big projects in the past like a new fire hall.
“We’ve been able to tap into the local businesses which have been very generous – oil companies, chemical companies – ag is big.”
The Edam Fall Fair is the second largest cattle show in Saskatchewan in the middle of grain country.
“We had a few years of pretty good prices for grain and now it’s down a bit,” said McDaid.
“What the oil activity has done has kept a lot of people on farms. They stay living on the farm and work off the farm in the oilpatch.”
As for his take of where oil and gas prices and activity levels will go, McDaid said, “We’ve seen three or four downturns in my time here, and it will come back.
“I just hope that too many people don’t get hurt too bad for lack of money. If you’ve got a big mortgage you could lose things.
“Once it’s up and running again those 28 lots will go and we’ll just be bigger.”