Situated on the Alaska Highway in northeastern British Columbia, Fort Nelson is an outdoor mecca for recreational play, as well as work opportunities in gas exploration.
The leading economic driver in Fort Nelson since the 1960s, the oil and gas exploration industry eventually expanded with the major discovery of shale gas. Using new technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, Fort Nelson uncovered three major shale gas reserves in the Horn River, Cordova, and Liard Basins. Fort Nelson’s natural gas industry centres around these basins, which contain gas in shale rock formations, and have propelled the growth of the local shale gas industry.
Today, economic activity in Fort Nelson concentrates on unconventional gas exploration with major players like Nexen, Apache, and Imperial Oil operating in Fort Nelson.
Bill Streeper, Mayor of Fort Nelson, told The Canadian Business Journal, “Our main income is based on oil patch work. Right now, we’re at the whim of relatively low gas prices so with the amount of natural gas here we are looking for markets; we’re talking 100 years of supply of gas.”
Fort Nelson is on the verge of becoming the major gas service sector of northeastern British Columbia and its neighbouring Northwest Territories. Exponential growth is a unique problem for any community, and Fort Nelson is in the early stages of becoming a very dominant gas service community.
It’s a particularly exciting time for Mayor Streeper, whose own history dates back over 45 years in the oil industry. “We’re building the town and right now it’s very exciting around here. We are preparing ourselves in the sense to the growth that happened in Fort McMurray, Alta. Gas exploration will never be what the tar sands are, but you can only expand so quickly.
“In fact, right now the town is in a bit of predicament as we’re having an issue expanding the town as fast as the people want to bring employees to town, but I think just about any town in Canada wishes they had our problem. It is a bright future in northeastern British Columbia.”
Notably, the growth of the gas sector in Fort Nelson has trigged a significant community expansion. Typically home to a population of about 5,000 – expected to double in the next five years – Fort Nelson enjoys peak seasons in the summer and winter when visitors take advantage of its rich recreational activities, enjoying a variety of outdoor amenities like hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and more.
Fort Nelson attracts both visitors and long-term residents. The community also offers an affordable housing market, a significant selling point in attracting young people to Fort Nelson and the oil industry.
“Employees are paid a premium to work here, which enables them to get into housing and to have a family,” Streeper summarized. “This is a high paying industry – people work hard and people play hard.”
Fort Nelson is a friendly community that offers an exceptional quality of life and a variety of local attractions. It’s also not uncommon for a visitor of Fort Nelson to decide to relocate to the community. Fort Nelson is creating jobs and a sense of community, and an excellent environment to raise a family, which makes it an attractive community to work and live.
Natural gas remains the major economic measure in Fort Nelson, while several other sectors like transportation and construction rely on the economic spinoffs and job creation from the gas industry.
Formerly a hub for the forestry industry, Fort Nelson’s two lumber production facilities ceased operations following rising costs and the downturn of the U.S. housing industry. For many communities, the dissolve of such a major industry would be economic devastation, but fortunately Fort Nelson, it was around this time when the major gas exploration companies announced full exploration and production bids, and workers from the former lumber industry were absorbed into positions in the oil field.
“The minute one industry switched, the other kicked right in, and we didn’t see any drop in community at all. We saw no downturn in our real estate and no empty buildings,” Streeper said. “It was a very successful transition.”