The impact of the Horse River Wildfire and the new economic reality of severely depressed oil and natural gas prices highlights the need for industry, municipalities and the Province to continue working together.

The Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA) believes population projections reflecting current economic realities are essential to accurately budget, plan and provide the programs, infrastructure and other services needed to maintain regional quality of life.

Using a best practice model developed by Nichols Applied Management, the projections were updated by OSCA in collaboration with the Wood Buffalo Steering Group (WBSG), comprised of representatives from Council, industry and municipal administration.


The population model considers the consequences of the 2015 economic downturn, the 2016 fire, and changes in regional workforce requirements.

The results include:

  • The urban (Fort McMurray) resident population estimate in 2016 is between 72,000 and 74,000, with an overall permanent regional population estimated at 75,600 to 77,600 residents in 2016 – see above.
  • The estimated permanent population in the rural service area in Wood Buffalo is approximately 3,600.
  • Although the fire contributed to a population decrease in 2016, that event is not expected to have a demonstrable impact on long-term population.
  • The oil sands sector has shifted from expansion to operational efficiency, productivity improvements, and significant cost-cutting. This change is leading to reduced workforce requirements and subsequent impacts on suppliers and contractors. These reductions drive corresponding reductions in other areas of the local, provincial and national economies.

These projections show a different future for our community than envisioned a few years ago. However, this information is essential if to properly plan and provide the programs, infrastructure and other services to maintain the quality of life for residents in RMWB,” Karim Zariffa, Executive Director, OSCA.

The data from the population model is a foundational tool for the Wood Buffalo Steering Group’s work to define a transition plan to reach the 5:1 tax ratio.

The model was introduced at the RMWB council meeting on May 9 and the final presentation is available here.