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Oil sands drive rapid population growth around Fort McMurray, Alberta

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by Richard Gilbert

Oilsands development and construction near Fort McMurray, Alberta is driving rapid population growth and has created a significant shortage of land for residential development.

Oilsands development and construction near Fort McMurray, Alberta is driving rapid population growth and has created a significant shortage of land for residential development.

“While the high rate of population growth has been occurring since the late 1990s, what has changed in the last five years is the increased numbers of temporary workers that reside in project accommodations,” said the 2010 Census, which was released on Jan. 17.

“The emergence of work camps as the dominant form of housing for construction workers began in about 2000.”

The 2010 Municipal Census for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) shows that the population of Fort McMurray expanded rapidly to 76,797 in 2010 from about 42,600 in 2000.

This represents an average annual growth rate of 7.4 per cent and an overall growth rate of 80 per cent since 2000.

The population of the RMWB increased by 101 per cent to 104,339 in 2010 from 51,850 in 2000.

Since 2000, the project accommodation population has increased by 295 per cent or an average of 17.1 per annually.

However, the population living in project accommodation dropped by 11.3 to 23,325 in 2010 from 26,284 in 2008, as a result of the global financial crisis and a slowdown in oilsands development.

“While there may appear to have been a decline in the rate of growth, once the decrease in the number of people living in project accommodations is factored in, it is clear that the municipality itself has continued to experience healthy growth during a period of world economic slowdown,” said Dennis Peck, director, planning and development.

The economic downturn and the slow down in the growth rate of the population in the region is temporary. A forecast from the planning and development department estimates the municipality will reach a population of 205,000 by 2028. The population in Fort McMurray is forecasted to increase to 133,000 by 2028.

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