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Industry & Community Collaboration:

(1 Vote)

The driving force to our region’s success

The successful development of Alberta’s oil sands is equal parts innovation, perspiration and collaboration. For decades, people have come from all over the world to our region and tackle the challenge of producing oil from bitumen.

With more than $82 billion in capital investment* for projects from announced to operating in 2012, more than 40 projects and thousands of workers in the region at any given time, it is important the oil sands industry work together with our local stakeholders to manage the impacts of resource development and maximizing the benefits.

And while the industry is driven by business principles, the companies that operate in the region also understand the value of converting the abundant natural resources into local financial resources which in turn supports the development of social programming, infrastructure and employment. Beyond the financial contributions to the local economy our industry also understands the importance of building communities which have a high quality of life – including education, recreation and cultural opportunities.

So it should come as no surprise that the people who work in oil sands industry would also apply their skills as community builders here in Fort McMurray and throughout the region. They volunteer time and expertise by participating on boards, coaching sports, or volunteering with social agencies. In this way, the industry is ensuring that we are working to improve the communities where we operate.

Beyond the direct impact our members have on the daily lives of local residents, there is also a need to meet regularly with the provincial government, municipal officials, as well as local service providers to ensure we are properly planning and preparing for the continued economic growth of the region.

For the past 15 years, the organization responsible for coordinating industry’s efforts to improve our communities has been the Oil Sands Developers Group (OSDG).

Now called the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA), the organization has the mandate to pursue innovative solutions that help to build thriving communities and shared value with our neighbours and enable the responsible growth of Canada’s oil sands. The organization will address socio-economic issues in four key areas: workforce, aboriginal, infrastructure and community well-being. This mandate change was a strategic decision made two years ago by industry, determining that the former OSDG needed a renewed focus strictly on socio-economic issues given the long-term growth projected for our industry.

“With oil sands production predicted to reach 5.2 million barrels per day by 2030, that economic growth brings both challenges and opportunities,” said Lee Funke, the OSCA’s interim executive director. “Our job is to help our members and local communities fully realize the benefits of this economic growth.

“In many ways, our association is getting back to its roots. By focusing our energy and resources to issues within four key areas, we will be better able to address issues which are fundamental to the long-term economic well-being of the communities in the region.”

The advantages of this new mandate and approach include: • Identifying issues early and ensuring developments contribute to economic growth and social development over the long-term; • Planning for social and physical infrastructure; • Informing and involving internal and external stakeholders and assisting to build trust and mutually beneficial outcomes; • Improving the quality of life of employees and improving attraction and retention of skilled workers; • Increasing capacity of community organizations, by partnering and implementing innovative approaches; and • Meeting community principles and standards.

For many people this is called the Social Licence to Operate (SLO). Social licence does not refer to a formal agreement but does reflect the acceptance by the public of oil sands companies and projects. A social licence is granted by stakeholders based on the credibility of our industry and the type of relationship that we develop with our communities. Obtaining and maintaining a social licence is only possible when communities feel they are consulted and receiving a fair share of benefits from oil sands projects.

“The evolution of the oil sands industry’s regional association from RIWG through OSDG to OSCA is welcome,” said Mike Evans, executive director of government relations for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

“We’ve long advocated that a healthy industry requires a healthy host community, and that Wood Buffalo’s health is affected by the socio-economic impacts of development. On one hand, tremendous prosperity is generated here to the benefit of the region, Albertans, indeed, all Canadians.

“But the brunt of that development has also been borne by local residents as, among other unintended consequences, high housing prices, traffic snarls and a shortage of retailers. The OSCA’s newly focused agenda should prepare the industry to play a more meaningful role ensuring that its response in Wood Buffalo shifts to more co-ordinated support for a range of social and infrastructure initiatives that will improve the quality of life of all residents and visitors to the region.”

In order to reach our industry’s long-term economic growth goals the OSCA must work with community partners. Partnerships are the best way to facilitate local capacity building, mobilize resources faster, leverage investment and coordinate multiple activities to respond to complex issues.

“Since 2011, the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo project has focused on building capacity in the social profit sector,” said Kim Nordbye, project manager for Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo. “Through this community-driven collaborative process to build and sustain innovation and social change in Wood Buffalo, we have identified time and time again the critical importance of all sectors working together and aligning their goals so we can collectively build a sustainable community.

“Creating visionary change in our region will take more than just one or two organizations. It will take linking arms between community organizations, government departments, elected officials, social entrepreneurs, the oil sands industry and businesses, large and small. We are very excited to work with the Oil Sands Community Alliance as they collaborate with stakeholders and organizations on their new socio-economic mandate.”

Many of our projects will be accomplished through what we call Joint Initiative Projects. Joint initiative projects provide us with the ability to implement initiatives by leveraging the available dollars or human resources and pooling it to reach a common objective.

One excellent example is the Sustainable Communities initiative which was started under the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative (OSLI) and has now been incorporated into our operations.

The SCI is partnership among six oil sands companies, two aboriginal communities - Janvier and Fort Chipewyan - and numerous institutional partners.

The goal of SCI is safe, healthy, sustainable communities where people want to live, work, play and raise their children. Where youth are active members of their community, and can move forward with confidence to their chosen path in life.

OSCA is very excited to be supporting the SCI joint initiative project and look forward to continued success and other great opportunities to establish collaborative relationships in aboriginal communities throughout the region.

With a new name, structure, plan and additional staff resources, the OSCA is well positioned to proactively engage on the socio-economic issues in the communities where we operate. However, one thing that does remain the same is our focus on maintaining partnerships with our key stakeholders in the region.

The members of the OSCA look forward to working with stakeholders in the region as we continue to manage the impacts of economic growth and ensure we all share in the benefits of oil sands development.