Early petroleum explorers simply looked for areas where oil and gas were seeping to the surface
or had been encountered accidentally when drilling water wells. This
unsophisticated but effective technique led to the discoveries of southern
Ontario oil in the 1850s and 1860s, eastern Alberta gas in 1883, Turner Valley oil and gas in 1914, and Norman Wells oil in 1920.
Some of the
successes were fleeting. For instance, the Geological Survey of Canada reported
seeps along Oil Creek near Waterton in southwestern Alberta in 1870, and for
many years local residents collected the oil by soaking it up with gunny sacks.
When a well was finally drilled in 1902, it reportedly gushed oil, and this set
up a five-year exploration boom, based in a shanty town optimistically named Oil
City. However, the first well's production quickly dwindled, and all the other
wells were dry, leading to a suspicion that the gusher had been a fraud.
Ironically, the jury is still out on the oil potential of this region, which is
now part of Waterton National Park.
mysteries caused greater problems for developers of the Turner Valley oil field
southwest of Calgary. Each of the three waves of exploration successes around
Turner Valleybeginning in 1914, 1924 and 1936was based on an improved
understanding of the area's complex geology. Each time, a larger reservoir was
found at a greater depth than the previously discovered producing formation.
Petroleum Communication Foundation. Our Petroleum Challenge: Exploring Canada's Oil and Gas Industry, Sixth Edition. Calgary: Petroleum Communication Foundation, 1999. With permission from the Centre for Energy.