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No Oil In Alberta, Eh?

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"No oil in Alberta" was the cry, in 1946, from Imperial Oil's headquarters in Toronto. Even its parent's guru, Lewis G. Weeks, referred to western Canada as an over-aged, barren woman with no prospects below the Cretaceous. Who would dare to criticize that erstwhile prestigious firm and its "experts"? After all, Imperial's Saskatchewan campaign had ended the year before in dismal failure - its enormous structures having resulted from differential solution of salt beds that left large mesas as drilling decoys, with nothing in them. Alberta activity was confined to drilling on seismic anomalies only, simply because O. B. Hopkins, Vice President of Exploration, ordered that there be geophysical justification, no matter how vague. Imperial Oil was running out of ideas as to how and where to look for oil!

However, the company's geologic knowledge-workers were not about to give up. Theories ran rampant! "Lewis liked hinge lines. He centered on the Cretaceous as the source of oil," said Wallace Pratt, geologist. Jack Webb and Bill Hancock, also geologists, disputed Lewis Weeks' hinge-line theory that the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin took a sharp dip to form a hinge-like line along which sedimentary sand traps could accumulate and might be oil-bearing. They further proved that this did not, and could not, occur - at least in Canada. However, Weeks redeemed himself as a knowledgeable oil-finder when he discovered the offshore Bass Field in Australia.

Then there was Ted Link, a strong proponent of deep stratigraphic tests, who sent questionnaires in May 1946 to 32 Alberta geological staff to elicit their opinions. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles to the north, at Norman Wells, Oswald Desmond Boggs, friend and colleague of Link, had made a startling discovery while working on the CANOL Project of WWII. Boggs, a Queen's graduate who had studied reefs in SouthAmerica, had identified the Kee Scarp formation at Norman Wells as a reef, over the doubts of Link and Hopkins. Dr. Charles R. Stelck, University of Alberta professor, in a 1975 lecture on the CANOL Project told of the reaction to Boggs' findings:

...I heard rumours, accompanied by loud laughter, that this crazy geologist up there at Norman Wells had gone bushed and thought the reservoir was a coral reef - a coral reef in the Arctic, when everybody knew that coral were confined to the Tropics...

Polar wandering had not been theorized then! Stelck confirmed that neither Link nor Hopkins believed Boggs. They sent Stelck out with sled dogs to check the Kee Scarp formation outcrop (the Norman Wells producing horizon) for reefal indicators. He returned to state that it was, indeed, coralline, vindicating Boggs.

In the meantime, while this geological bantering was going on, Imperial's "no oil in Alberta" mind-set had spawned plans to construct a Fischer-Tropsch synthetic gasoline plant in Edmonton. The company already had a stranglehold on gasoline retailing and was ready to do anything to retain that position. Plans began under the direction of newly-imported Mike Haider, one of Jersey's few natural gas experts. His mandate: to run Imperial's operations in Western Canada. There seems to be no doubt that Imperial's request for 200,000 acres east, west, and south of Edmonton (Reservation #350), in April 1946, was directly related to finding gas for the proposed plant, as was its geophysical program. Issuance of these concession-type blocks of land required only geological and geophysical commitments.

“Billion Barrel Man.” (Ray Walters). Lantern slide.Ray Walters, born in Gorgona, Canal Zone, Panama, and one of Carter's1 top geophysicists, was already on the scene, having arrived in 1945 to head up geophysical reconnaissance. (Although it was rumoured in "cowtown"2 that his real mission was to shut down Imperial's exploration program after three other Carter men had refused this distasteful task.)Peter I. Bediz, early 1950s. Peter Bediz, classmate of Ray at the Colorado School of Mines, described him as one who never took anyone's word - he had to satisfy himself by first checking in all other directions. He was certainly a controversial figure, praised by some and vilified by others, but always sure of himself.



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