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Natural Gas Discovery (1883)

The first natural gas wellThe discovery of natural gas in Alberta was an accident that began a massive industry. In 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway was drilling for water for its transcontinental railway that was located fifty-five kilometres northwest of Medicine Hat. To the worker’s surprise, gas emitted from the well. A second well a few metres away from the original site was drilled in 1884, and it was specifically searching for natural gas. The second well produced enough gas to light and heat many buildings. Dr. George M. Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada conducted a survey in 1886 on the wells and presented it to the Royal Society of Canada. The Calgary Herald Mining and Range Advocate and General Advertiser reported on 12 December 1883:

PHENOMENON. -- At Langevin, 4th siding west of Medicine Hat, a rather singular phenomenon has presented itself. The well-borers have reached a depth of 1,120 feet without finding water, but a gas which rushes out of the tube, which, on taking fire emits a flame sufficient to light up the surrounding country. They still purpose going deeper for the water, but have given up working at night, not considering it safe.

The drilling of these two wells instigated the natural gas industry in the Medicine Hat area. It also led to the massive growth of the town itself. In 1898, Medicine Hat was incorporated as a town, and in 1901, they created their own gas utility board. Medicine Hat became a city in 1906 because of the development of the oil fields. The Bow Island gas field was explored and led to the creation of the first pipelines that delivered natural gas to many towns and cities in Alberta. The first well that had sparked the growth had been closed since the 1883 discovery, but the second well was closed off and abandoned in 1934 after more than fifty years of production.

The site’s name was changed three times. It was called Langevin Siding until 1910 when settlers created the town of Carlstadt. After the First World War, the name was changed to Alderson. However, the exact location of these wells was recorded inaccurately and the actual location was not known until the 1970s. Interest in the history of the wells led researchers Bill Webb and Micky Gulless to visit the discovery site in July 1977. In 1979, an archaeological crew from John Brumley and Associates began to excavate the area in search of the two wells. By 27 October 1979, the dig was completed and the well was located. PanCanadian Limited (now Encana) owned the land, and they were interested in the history of the well. In fact, then Chairman and CEO Robert Campbell and John Taylor, President of PanCanadian, visited the site. The legal description of the first well site is 03-29-015-10-W4. According to Micky Gulless’ account, it appeared that the 1883 discovery well did not leak. Gulless also suggested that the discovery well was abandoned by an experienced drilling crew. The second well was deserted by railway crews and did leak, which resulted in the well taking until the 1950s to be completely sealed.

A permanent memorial was erected to commemorate the finding of the first gas wells in Alberta and the Canadian Pacific's centennial. The monument was designed by D. S. Bathory, Stevenson, Raines and Partners, and was built by Anglia Steel. In late 1981, the well monument was installed by Brooks Oilfield Services next to the two covered wells.

Visit the Petroleum History Society for information on “Alberta’s First Natural Gas Discovery” http://petroleumhistory.ca/history/firstgas.html


The Birth of the Oil Industry

Before Canada entered Confederation, it had an oil industry. In this excerpt from the JuneWarren publication, The Great Canadian Oil Patch: The Petroleum Era from Birth to Peak, author Earle Gray traces the origins of the oil industry in Canada from its humble beginnings in the Province of Canada West in the 1850s. Read more...


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