Canada and the US are home to a number of mining towns and communities. They always have been, since the days of the first pioneers. But modern day mining towns are a far cry away from the Wild West image of hard drinking men, bar room brawls, boom and bust.
More than 14,000 operations mine for coal, metal ores and non-metallic minerals in the United States. The ability of the US economy to compete internationally and the livelihood of many American workers depends on the availability and abundance of America’s valuable mined resources and their contributions to the U.S. economy.
The US National Mining Association (NMA) estimate that the US mining industry in 2011 directly and indirectly generated more than 2.11 million U.S. jobs, $138 billion in US labor income, $232 billion of US gross domestic product (GDP) and $51 billion in federal, state and local taxes. For some states, mining’s economic contribution was substantial, climbing as much as 17% in the past two years.
In Canada, the Mining Association of Canada estimated that the mining industry in 2010, where the latest verifiable figures come from, contributes $36 billion to Canada’s GDP and employs 308,000 workers in mineral extraction in smelting, fabrication and manufacturing areas.
Internationally, Canada is one of the leading mining countries and one of the largest producers of minerals and metals. The industry accounted for 21% of the value of Canadian goods exports in 2010, selling a diversi?ed array of minerals abroad. Exports of aluminium, copper, gold, iron and steel, iron ore, nickel, silver, uranium, zinc, diamonds, potash and coal ranged from $1.7 billion to $15.1 billion each.
There are some large scale investment projects and opportunities for workers in Canada especially. Labor shortages in the country have already pushed wages for some oil and gas workers up by as much as 60 percent.
Energy companies trying to create Canada’s first network of natural gas export terminals are likely to struggle to find available workers.
As the mining industry continues to expand and more jobs in mining look likely to become available across North America, we take a look at what it’s really like to live and work in a mining town. We’ll also weigh up the pros and cons of living in some of the most isolated communities in the world.
In Canada, for example, mining operators cater extensively for their workers. Some housing complexes are being floated that will include an indoor golf driving range, a two-story gymnasium and a private movie theatre.
“The nature of the mining industry is such that it takes a certain hardiness of personality to survive in camps. For those who can handle such an intensive work-focused environment, there is the benefit of saving large amounts of money within short spans of time,” says Colin Smyth, speaking to Moving2Canada.com, when describing camp life in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta, Canada.
“My camp is the Canadian Natural (CNRL) camp. There are approximately 2,000 people in this camp. In my wing there are 50 people. We each have a room which has a single bed, a TV, and a desk. Each day cleaning staff clean the room and make your bed. Breakfast is between 5 and 8 a.m. and is served in a canteen that includes cereal, and all “fry” food. Each worker takes up to two bags of lunch for the day, typically sandwiches, soup, fruit, veg, noodles, cookies and croissants. Dinner is between 4 and 8 p.m. Dinners vary from day to day but there is always a very large variety. Typical recreation includes indoor soccer, indoor field hockey and poker nights. This camp also has a bar which is open from 6 to 10 p.m.”
On the other side of the world, Paraburdoo in North Western Australia is another example of a classie and remote mining town.
“I moved here with my family about 5 years ago and I think we’re only now seen as locals,” says Paul Rimmer, the Shell Lube Service Expert in Paraburdoo.
“The quality of life my family enjoys here in the township is fantastic. We love it. There’s a real sense of community, and a pride as well, which my city friends envy.”
Paul offers technical support to Rio Tinto, the second largest iron ore producer in the world. Paul’s job is to keep things running 24/7; unplanned downtime is not an option.
“Out here the last thing you want is for equipment to fail and mining to stop. I mean at any time,” he says.
Paul and his family’s experience in Australia is one that countless expat mining families worldwide, including in the US and Canada will know and share. The communities they work in may be remote, but there is a friendliness and community spirit that rarely exists in modern day urban centres.