Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Natalie-oilsands
56 year oldBill Gates– the pipefitter-- drearily blinkshiseyesopentothe all-too-familiarsoundof his
cell phone alarm. He squintsashe glancesat the blindingbluelight.5:30a.m. Swipingthe screento
dismissthe alarm,hiseyesfocusonthe photoof three blonde women -- twoyoung,one aroundhis age
-- for a momentbefore swinginghis legsoutof the single bed.
He flicksonthe lightrevealingthe small bland bedroomand methodicallypullsonhis insulated
workpants,matchingjacket,and wornsteel-toedboots beforemakinghiswaydowntothe dininghall.
The CanadianNatural ResourcesLimited (CNRL) oil sandsminingand bitumenextractionplantis
one of manysuch plantsinthe Fort McMurray area. It hostsfourworkercamps, each holding2000
workersemployedtoconstructan enormousexpansiontothisalreadyoperating site.
Hundredsof these workers are inthe diningroomnow,the smell of friendbaconandeggs,toast
and coffee cuttingthroughthe grumblingbuzzof voices. Gatesshufflesinline shouldertoshoulderto
fill aplate withsome eggsandtoast, and grabssome foodfor lunch.Each workergetstwobrownbags
worthto take withthem.
Gates glancesaroundthe dininghall foranopenseat, contemplatingwhohe’sinthe moodto
sitwith. He choosesaspot where three menaroundhisage and twoothersintheir30’s sitbentover
“Look at Husky.There’sbeenthousandsof jobcutsthismonth,”one of the oldermenissaying,
“You turn on the news andyou hearthiscompany’sshuttingdown,thatone’sshuttingdown.Itaffects
“Rememberthe eighties?”Gateschimesin ashe sits.“Price of crude oil was US$35 a barrel in
1980. In’86, it droppedfrom$27 to $10. I couldn’tfindajob as a dishwasherbackthen.”
“I tell ya,I swearwe needanotherbigwar to boostitagain,” the oldermansays. “It’s a volatile
“It’s gettingalittle scary,”saysone of the youngermen,“I’mjusthopingtomake itto
Christmas. See whathappensinthe New Year,withthe new government.”
“Flyday for you,isn’tit?”Gatesnods at him.
The youngerman smiles.“Yup. Home fora week. Slowestdayof the shift.”
Gates smilesinagreement. Countingdownthe days.
He grewup inEdmontonbuthas beenlivinginthe Vancouverareasince the early1990’s.
“WhenI was 45 I got a plumbingjobwiththe school boardnearhome and I thought,whoathat’sit,I do
thisfor 15 yearsand I’mdone,”he says.“But, we were goingbroke,Iwas makinga thirdof what I’m
makingnow.It wasstupid.Iwas home everynightat4:30 butdidn’thave any moneytodo anything,so
it feelslikethere’snochoice. I’dbe lyingif IsaidI neverfeel like I’mwastingmylifeuphere. The
schedule 14 onand 7 off isnot that bad,but not everybodycandoit.It screwsaroundwithyour mind.”
Afterbreakfast Gatesstepsoutintothe frigid toe-curlingmorningair.He can see the plantfrom
here;the toweringbronze structures,some standing450 feethigh,are lituplike a cityskyline
Crowdsof workersloadup on yellow school bussesforthe shorttripto the plant.Whenthe
windblowsjustthe rightway,theycan smell it:the smell of burningdirtandwavesof sandthat massive
trucks bringinto cook,to pour chemicalsthroughtobreakdownbefore it’sshippedtorefineries.
“It’sthe smell of money –dirtyoil money.There’snothinglike it.”
Whenoil’sbooming, the workers have amore laidbackattitude,Gatessays.Now,everyoneis
justa little more onedge.Guysare hiredandfiredeveryday,sotheydotheirbestand playby the rules
because doingsomethinglike notputtingonyoursafetyglassesorearplugscan getyoufired.
Donninghissafetygearanda clipboard,Gates getstowork on QualityControl,ensuringthatthe
ice cold steel pipe piecesare assembledcorrectlyinthe intricate multi-billiondollarpuzzle. He climbs
ladderafterladder, stoppingtoinspectsectionsashigh60 feetinthe air.On the ground,trucks with
wheelsasbigas housesare loadedwithtarsands.
Each time he looksout overthe plantstretchingformiles,he isoverwhelmedbythe vastness
and powerthatit holds.
“A goodday isa double-timeday,”he says. “A bad day iswhenI’mnot at home whenI needto
be. Earlierthisyeara kid,anapprentice, attemptedsuicide,tooktoomanypills.Itwasn’tgoodforhim
beingaway,he had twosmall kidswithmedical problems. Itwasn’tworkstress,itwasstuff that
happenedoutsideof work.Peoplecanhandle the work,theycan’thandle beingaway”
5:30 signalsthe endof the day-shift.Enteringthe dininghall,itsmellslikesteaknight.A lineup
curvesaroundthe servingcounter:men,women, young,old.
Gates sitswitha fewfamiliarfacestoenjoyhissteak.A manthat lookstobe inhisearly70s
passesthem. “FuckI hope I’mnot here at that age,”one of the mensays.He laughs, “He didn’tplan
right. Once you’re on yourthirdwife,you’re done.Maybe yougetthroughone or two,butthe thirdone
A fewhoursafterdinner,Gatesisback inhisroom forbed.He turns off the light,the bland
bedroomdisappearingintothe dark, andclimbsintothe single bed.He sendsoff a“Good night”textto
each of the blonde womenonhisscreensaverandre-setshismorningalarm.
Nine more daysuntil flyday.