As if the market crash threating their jobs wasn’t stressful enough, workers in Canada’s oil-sands are bracing for the coronavirus to upend life in the remote camps where they’re lodged. One suspected case among them is already haunting roughnecks who fly in from across Canada and live for weeks on end in barracks-like facilities built in the boreal forests and marshes of northern Alberta, which houses the world’s third-largest crude reserve. Civeo Corp., a Houston-based company that provides lodging for workers in the Fort McMurray area near oil-sands mines, on Friday said one of its guests “has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, has been tested and we are awaiting results.”
A widespread infection afflicting a workforce that grapples with long hours of physical labor in punishing cold would also be a blow to producers already reeling from the fallout of the oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. It would disrupt what’s set to be the industry’s heaviest maintenance season in five years. Thousands of temporary workers will be needed as producers like Suncor Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. shut equipment for repairs. Anxieties already are running high among workers, who often have their own rooms but share restrooms and cafeterias, providing many opportunities for the virus to go around.