Protester storms stage at 2019 Global Petroleum Show in Calgary by Melissa Gilligan, June 11, 2019, Global News
The Protester: Before we hear from the Premier [Jason Kenney], I just want to say, he does not represent me. This is a cesspool of hypocrisy.
My friends, I love this province. I do not want this province to be polluted.
My friend is dying from an opioid addiction that he got directly from the oilfields. …
Protester is manhandled by numerous police and security.
Audience member yells: Let him speak!
[The protester is hauled off]
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2019 04 21: The oilpatch offers a big pay out, but for workers who struggle with addiction, it can come with a cost by Brennan Doherty and Andrew Jeffrey, Calgary Star
Al Radtke’s decade of sobriety began in the last unoccupied room at Fort McMurray’s only detox facility.
Earlier that day, the man who once made $120,000 a year at the height of his career crawled out of the tent where he’d been living for two years, and he just wanted to die. After three decades as an ironworker in Western Canada’s oil and gas industry, Radtke’s crack cocaine, alcohol and cannabis habits had led to deep despair.
On Remembrance Day, 2008, Radtke walked into the Centre of Hope, Fort McMurray’s only daytime drop-in centre for the homeless, where he tried to turn over his I.D. He didn’t want anyone to identify his body to spare his family the grief of knowing he had committed suicide.
But Radtke decided to phone Pastew Place instead and got the last bed for the night. He detoxed there for about two weeks before he moved to Simon House Recovery Centre in Calgary. It took nearly two years at the privately run, charitable non-profit rehabilitation centre before he felt ready to live on his own. But like many oilpatch workers battling substance abuse, the start of sobriety meant the end of a very lucrative career.
“I never went back to the plants, because they told me after so many years of doing it, my thinking would go right back,” Radtke, 61, said in an interview at Simon House, where he now helps other men, many former oilpatch workers, recover from drug and alcohol dependence. “I’ve seen guys come here and go back and have success. They have to work hard. But they were younger guys.”
Western Canada’s oilpatch offers a big pay out, but it comes at a cost, epecially for fly-in, fly-out workers who live in lodges and camps for weeks at a time. Their commute can be as short as a flight to Fort McMurray, where they catch another plane to a remote aerodrome, or as long as a nine-hour plane ride across the country to St. John’s.
It’s a macho workplace culture where employees perform dangerous jobs for long hours, sometimes overnight. Drinking is a common after-hours release. Add to that the loneliness of long shift rotations, and you have a crack where mental illness can seep in. Set against the backdrop of the opioid crisis, in a province with a ready supply of fentanyl and crystal meth, and you have an environment where substance abuse can take hold.
Mining and upgrading bitumen, driving massive haul trucks, working drill rigs and maintaining complicated facilities is often intensely physical work. When a shift is over, workers want to blow off steam. For many, punching out means grabbing a beer or three.
“You’ll try to find community in the bar,” Radtke explained.
Justin Drolet, 31, started using ketamine and other party drugs in high school and kept using after he was hired as an equipment operator and supervisor with Northstar Energy Services and started working across Western Canada. Fentanyl and ketamine were his drugs of choice, mainly because oil companies didn’t test for either one at the time. Off site, he would use drugs such as meth, cocaine or ecstasy.
On the job, he’d duck into the bathroom or go for a ride in his crew truck when he needed to use, which meant he was often high at the controls of heavy machinery. Sometimes he’d have drugs for breakfast. Eight years ago, high on fentanyl, he slammed a semi truck into a guardrail at the Suncor Base Plant trying to make a tight turn. As per company policy, Drolet was given a drug test, but it didn’t cover fentanyl so he passed. He took more immediately after the test.
“I’m a drug addict, so I don’t just go and do one line and then I’m good for a few hours,” he explained.
The stories told by Radtke and Drolet are nothing new for Sandra Corbett. In 22 years as a psychiatrist in Fort McMurray, she met many clients who worked in the oilsands and struggled with addiction, often intertwined with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
In her experience, fly-in fly-out workers were especially vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse because they had no family to go home to after a long day at work.
“They were only in there for work, so what do they do when they’re not working?” said Corbett, now the interim medical director for Alberta Health Services north zone. “They didn’t have family or friends or a social structure that people would normally have that would help them not get into drug habits.”
Alcoholism was the most common form of substance abuse Corbett saw from her patients, but she said cocaine was known to be used more heavily by oil and gas workers, partly because it can clear the system to avoid detection in a few days.
It also has a practical use on the job. “In terms of it being a stimulant and allowing them to maybe perform or at least be more active … that was maybe why that was seen in a higher proportion of people who were (oil and gas) workers,” she said.
Nobody knows exactly how pervasive a problem drug and alcohol abuse is in the oilpatch, because private companies don’t disclose information on employees and public health data are not broken down by occupation or industry.
A snapshot in time is provided by an Alberta Health Services report from April 2017 that relied on self-reported data from 2,817 workers surveyed in 2009. It showed oil and gas workers drink more heavily on average than other Albertan workers, with 12 per cent of respondents at medium or high risk of harmful alcohol use compared with an average of 5.9 per cent across all other industries.
It estimated 134,000 of Alberta’s two million workers over the age of 15 were employed in oil and gas, which means more than 16,000 could be abusing alcohol.
The reported rates of drug use for substances like marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and opiates were too low to draw any conclusions, although the daily use of prescription painkillers was higher in the oil and gas group at 17.5 per cent compared to 14.8 per cent in all other industries. The authors noted alcohol and drug use could be higher, because people tend to under-report substance use, and because economic downturns, which Alberta has experienced since this survey, can go hand in hand with an increased use of harmful substances.
Charl Els, an addiction specialist and a clinical professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Psychiatry, argued it’s important to keep up-to-date data on substance use of workers in any industry so the province can address the problem.
“The issue here is, unless we measure, we have a limited understanding of what’s going on in our workplace, which does make it more difficult to apply interventions of early identification to allow for people to get the necessary assessment, getting to treatment,” Els said. …
Another window into drug and alcohol use by oilpatch workers comes from a 2017 sworn affidavit from a Suncor vice-president in a court battle with the union representing its workforce in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo over random drug testing.
According to the affidavit filed on Nov. 21, 2017 in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, more than 10,000 incidents and near misses ranging from workers slipping to electrocution take place every year in its thabasca operations, which include Suncor’s Base Plant in Wood Buffalo, its Fort Hills mining operation and in situ operations at McKay River and Firebag.
Between 2013 and 2017, Suncor had five workplace deaths, including one in 2014 where a man left a safe work area at Suncor’s Base Plant and, “without being instructed to do so and for no apparent reason,” climbed a ladder, came into contact with energized electrical equipment, and died. A toxicology report later found the worker’s blood-alcohol concentration was over the legal limit to drive.
Numerous near misses are detailed in the affidavit, like the haul truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel in 2016 and tested positive for cocaine and amphetamines. They were one of 320 Suncor employees who used alcohol or drugs on the job between 2003 and 2017.
Suncor has had a no-drinking or drug-use policy on all work sites since the early 1980s, according to the affidavit, and the company tests employees involved in accidents or where there’s reasonable suspicion of intoxication. Suncor’s security team even uses sniffer dogs to find drug stashes. The union dropped the case after the Supreme Court refused to hear the case last summer. Suncor began random drug tests this year for 90 “safety sensitive” jobs that include engineers, truck drivers and even the company’s CEO.
Suncor did not respond to multiple recent requests for comment on drug and alcohol use at its work sites. Other oil and gas companies who use fly-in fly-out workers have internal testing policies, although requests to talk to Cenovus, Canadian Natural Resources and Husky Ltd. about drug and alcohol use and how they detect and manage it were declined.
Fly-in workers sometimes stay in dry — drug and alcohol-free — camps, but workers at some of them are able to leave, get drunk or use drugs, and return before curfew. But Drolet had an easy time bringing drugs into camp. When he was dealing in the early 2000s, he’d walk in to a dry camp with drugs in his luggage, and security never asked to look inside his bag.
“In my nine years in the oilfield, I was never checked,” Drolet said. “They just call it a dry camp, right?”
As an ironworker, Radtke spent a lot of time working on rigging machines in hazardous situations. While he promised himself he wouldn’t use drugs or drink on the job, his substance use got worse, to the point where he was fired for smoking crack cocaine in his room at the Suncor Millennial dry camp. …
The arrival of fentanyl and crystal meth on the drug scene has introduced far cheaper and more potent drugs than alcohol and cocaine in the short term, said Loria. Injecting two milligrams of fentanyl, an opioid that is about 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, can be lethal. Sustained use of meth, which costs as little as $10 for a single dose, can lead to psychosis, brain damage and memory loss.
“That’s the problem,” Radtke explained. “Crack cocaine costs money, cocaine costs money. Fentanyl is cheap. The meth is cheap.”
Meth is sometimes used to counteract the numbing effect of fentanyl, or even act as a safer alternative to the opioid. Loria said a worker might be able to use alcohol or cocaine heavily and remain functional for a while, but this isn’t necessarily true of fentanyl. As with other rehab centres, Simon House is increasingly seeing patients — oilpatch workers or otherwise — in treatment for opioid and meth use.
“In 2016, we did not have one single client come to Simon House who was taking methadone or suboxone for their opioid addiction,” Loria said. “Today, in 2019, 23 per cent of our clients are taking suboxone or methadone for their opioid addiction.”
Oilpatch workers whose substance abuse or addictions are linked to their jobs need to take extra measures to ensure they avoid the heartbreaking cycle of recovery and relapse.
During his 22 months at Simon House, Radtke pumped gas for a year at the Calgary Co-op and spent another seven months working at a car lot. There wasn’t a lot of money in either job compared to the $120,000 a year he once made as an ironworker, but both Radtke and Drolet agreed lean wallets are an asset in recovery. After leaving his first stint in rehab, Drolet sold his vehicle for a cheaper model to get the money he needed to buy drugs. He relapsed a week later.
The other key to sobriety is understanding that a life without drugs is possible. Radtke worked alongside a tradesman who had been clean for 17 years, and told him so every day, knowing Radtke was battling addiction. “He was waiting for me to say: ‘OK, how’d you do it?’ ”
Radtke never asked. But he will never forget the colleague who left the door open to him and, 10 years into sobriety, does his best to do the same for everyone who crosses the threshold of Simon House.
Refer also to:
2017 08 20: A Room Full of Liars & Fascism in Action in Canada: Ever get frac’d? Listen to Steve Harper? Rebel Media? Read Supreme Court of Canada rulings? Minister Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale affirms “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) use of the major crime technique.”
2015 10 24: Will Canadian cops become next victims of industry’s water contamination and fraud? A dangerous new police “best practice?” RCMP members “drink the water” while “trying to understand the shale gas industry” and “educate” themselves. No word on if RCMP plan to try to understand, or investigate, the dangerous and rampant fraud associated with oil and gas industry’s widespread frac contamination, or the number to call if families need RCMP “water taster” to come taste their water after it’s been frac’d, as companies, regulators, and research councils try to cover it up, while lying to the public (including the police) that now toxic and explosive water is “common, normal, and safe”
2015 03 25: Did Harper and the oil and gas industry order RCMP/CSIS/Snipers to attack innocent mothers and grandmothers, and set aflame stripped police cars in New Brunswick to discredit all Canadians concerned about frac harms and lay a red carpet for Harper’s Bill C-51?
2014 09 16: RCMP ignore “volley of gunfire” to concerned citizen’s home but warn government and industry: “Environmental extremists pose ‘clear and present criminal threat’ to Canada’s energy sector – more likely to strike at critical infrastructure than religiously inspired terrorists.” Canadian and Australian oil and gas lobby groups warn: Industry operations “impact aquifers” and “contaminate water resources” as pre-determined “bullshit” investigations, cover-ups and court rulings fix everything. No word if “religiously inspired terrorists” plan to retire because of the intense competition
2014 02 06: Complaint filed over alleged illegal searches of private information on Northern Gateway pipeline opponents by RCMP, CSIS and handing the information over to oil companies and Canada’s national energy regulator
2014 01 31: Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) illegally spied on Canadians; Harper government insisted CSEC never spied on Canadians; Spy agency’s work with CSIS, RCMP fuels fears of privacy breaches