Skilled tradespeople head north to Alberta oil sands

U.S. industrial workers are heading northward to work in the Alberta oil sands, drawn by the prospect of higher wages and steady work, a  study released Monday said.

Electricians, plumbers, carpenters and steelworkers are among those  making tracks to frosty Alberta, hoping to cash in on the bonanza of oil sands crude  that has proliferated in the Canadian province in the last decade.

This boom has pushed median wages as much as 130 percent higher than for similar skilled work in the United States, Industrial Info Resources reported.

According to estimates by the International Energy Agency,  Alberta has more  than 1.7 billion barrels of oil, most of which is located in the Athabasca Oil Sands in northeast Alberta. The crude oil extracted from these sands comes out as bitumen,  a semi-solid tar, mixed with sand and clay.

The challenges of extracting  and refining oil  sands crude historically limited  exploration in Alberta, but higher oil prices and improved technology have made the province a hotbed of drilling activity in the last decade. More than 900,000 new jobs are expected by 2035 as a result of continued drilling, according to Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Plumbers and pipefitters are in especially high demand. The Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 288, which focuses on the oil sands sector, estimates that its membership includes  3,000 to  3,300 workers from the United States, and it expects that to number to increase five-fold   by 2016, the report said.

The work is welcome news for many U.S. skilled workers, particularly carpenters and electricians whose availability in the U.S. exceeds demand by 29 percent, according  to the Industrial Info Resources study’s supply and demand outlook.