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Home > History of Development > Leduc: Causes and Effects > Setting the Stage: Before 1947 > Geological Factors > Drilling

Leduc: Causes and Effects


Portable cable tool rig working on oil well derrick, Bow Island, Alberta, July 1930 From the 1850s to the 1930s, most of Canada's oil and gas wells were drilled with a primitive device called a cable-tool rig. The heavy, chisel-like bit was suspended on a cable and dropped repeatedly into the rock at the bottom of the hole.

Cable-tool drilling was very slow, hard work—and sometimes very dangerous. Progress of just 100 metres per month was not uncommon. A modern rig can usually drill that far in a few hours. The bits had to be pulled and sharpened frequently. Drillers poured water into the wellbore and removed the cuttings by bailing out the resulting "mud." If the bit encountered a reservoir, the pressure could shoot the tool up through the rig like a bullet out of a rifle barrel.

Rotary rigs, predecessors of the types used today, were introduced in Texas in the 1890s and in Turner Valley, Alberta, in 1925. However, they were not used widely in Canada until exploration in Turner Valley in 1936 indicated that there were larger oil reservoirs to be found at greater depths than earlier discoveries. After the Second World War most cable-tool rigs were retired in favour of rotary rigs, although a few cable-tool rigs continued to operate for many years in southern Ontario.

The first well-logging instruments appeared in Canada in the 1920s. The simplest version combined a camera, a plumb bob and a compass. This "dipmeter" was lowered to a given depth and snapped a picture of the compass and weighted line. The developed picture would tell drillers if the well was tilted and, if so, in what direction. This helped avoid a common problem of wells veering off course in the tilted and fractured underground rock formations near Turner Valley. Another early logging instrument measured the electrical resistance in rocks around the wellbore; a higher resistance often indicated the presence of crude oil.

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.


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