Coupling the complex environmental issues concerning the North American oil fields with the psychological impacts on its workers, oil fields and the companies mining these fields have increasingly become scrutinized. At first appearance, these oil fields can appear harmless, but after some investigation, they may not be what they seem.
Although the pay can be good, the North American oil fields come with a harsh reality. Before you move yourself, and even your family, to the booming towns in North Dakota and Canada for a trucking job, read and learn a little more about these mysterious oil fields. Warning: this trucking job is not for the faint of heart.
Meet Jonnie Cassens, a 38-year-old truck driver. She moved to North Dakota with the hopes of pursuing the American Dream. Coming to North Dakota with only unpaid hospital bills, student loans, and a commercial driver’s license, Cassens easily found a job in the oil industry as something similar to a round-the-clock delivery driver. All too soon, she found that this promised dream may be nonexistent. Cassens’ life offers a bit of a different perspective about the up-and-coming North Dakota oil fields.
For this reason, The New York Times decided to make Cassens the subject of an Op-Doc video. In the video, Cassens shares her struggle to make a life for herself in a land full of men. While the work is steady, she only earned $34,000 last year. Coupled with her loneliness, Cassens often questions the life she has made for herself in North Dakota.
Another perspective comes from the recent documentary filmed in Canada’s oil sands. Oil Sands Karaoke offers a rare view into the lives of five oil patch workers living in Fort Murray, Alberta. Instead of centering his film on the environmental issues that everybody has heard about, Vancouver director Charles Wilkinson has decided to focus on the mental landscapes of oil sands workers, a subject that he feels hasn’t been given previous attention. According to straight.com, Oil Sands Karaoke, which was released on January 17, is the second feature to his environmental trilogy. Wilkinson first brought people’s attention to the oil sands in his first documentary, Peace Out.
While on a Peace Out screening tour, Wilkinson discovered a karaoke bar in Fort McMurray. After seeing how the bar brought a variety of people together, Wilkinson was inspired to see why this was. Wilkinson’s documentary quickly started to fall in place, and it wasn’t too long before he realized people’s reservations about the work they were doing in Fort McMurray.
“Almost everyone expressed doubts about what they’re doing. And I thought that was super-poignant to be willing to reveal that about what they do to make a living, that they have misgivings about it,” said Wilkinson.
In the documentary, Wilkinson uncovers another underlying issue: social deprivation.
“It’s just such a lonely place to be,” said Wilkinson. “The shift work is crushing. People spend 12 hours at work, usually an hour or possibly more commuting, depending on where they’re staying… So piece together how difficult it would be to form a relationship, even just a friend, a buddy… His shift starts at a different time than yours—when are you going to see him?”
Upon exposing these hidden mental issues, the karaoke bar finally made sense. These people weren’t there to just karaoke, they were there to escape their day-to-day lives. While, yes, this documentary is about a karaoke contest, it’s also about so much more.
“The question that the film is fundamentally asking is ‘If we are in so much trouble, how come we aren’t able to do anything about it?’” said Wilkinson. “And of course the answer is we’re all busy competing in a karaoke contest.”
When researching the topic of oil fields, numerous stories can be found about the environmental issues. It’s difficult to write a piece about issues of the North American oil fields without mentioning something about its controversial environmental impacts.
Alberta’s environmental record is anything but clean. Emissions continue to climb, yet not much is being done to control the oil sands continuous unclean development. Most recently, a surprising voice against these issues has appeared. Brian Jean is a former Conservative MP for Fort McMurray who has just resigned from the Harper Government and is now speaking out against the oil sands development.
According to Jean, what concerns him the most is the deteriorating quality of life because of the rapid development. “It seems like we are trying to get every bit (of oil) out of the ground right away, but the oil isn’t going anywhere… Do we need to do it at the cost of people’s lives?”
“It seems like we are trying to get every bit (of oil) out of the ground right away, but the oil isn’t going anywhere,” Jean told the Edmonton Journal. “Do we need to do it at the cost of people’s lives?”
On April 24 and 25 in Lake Lenier, the Premier Alison Redford will host 100 decision-makers at a regional conference of the World Economic Forum. The group will discuss energy, climate change, and the environment.
As you can see, the North American oil fields are not for everyone. It takes a lot of personal sacrifice, a strong tenacity to hang with it, and willingness to roll with the punches. While it may not be your typical trucking job, the pay is good, and the work is steady.