But not all the news is good news for Canada’s oil workers. The darker story of this oil boom is the working conditions it develops. The oil “pits,” or camps, are a largely male population, who work for extended periods in remote areas in extremely frigid winter conditions. Oil workers are required to be on-site for weeks at a time away from their families and support systems with barely any entertainment or leisure time. Oil jobs also pay an unbelievable quantity of money, making these the ideal conditions for addiction and substance abuse to thrive.
Legal struggles, such as the one between oil giant Suncor and civil rights unions over the right to randomly and frequently drug test employees, are developing a public understanding of issues long understood by workers of the oil industry. Oil workers who have defeated their addiction and substance abuse describe the battle for sobriety in the oil pits as futile. The pressure of working extended shifts over consecutive weeks accumulates until time off, when employees go into the city with pockets of money to burn. There, they have access to every kind of alcohol, drug and sexual encounter that is for sale.
At the present time, oil companies reserve the right to occasionally drug test their employees, which has an unfortunate effect on the drug using employees. Because marijuana can take weeks to leave the human body, employees are turning to more addictive substances such as alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamines, which only take days to clear from the physical body. Because of how addictive these substances are, it does not take long for employees to become so addicted that they are using on and off the job. Drugs and alcohol are frequently found on site at the oil pits, even in possession of workers operating large equipment.
All oil boom towns in history are known for their substance abusing debauchery. As the oil industry of Canada expands into other provinces, such as British Columbia, it is time for Canada to decide how to battle future addiction issues before they come to resemble the oil sands. If you or someone you know is working in the oil industry and struggling with substance abuse or addiction, professional addiction rehabilitation is essential to well-being and livelihood.