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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Imperial Oil’s head office on Toronto's St. Clair Avenue in 1957.Ontario was the starting point for the oil industry in North America. Oil and gas reserves have been located in four sedimentary basins in Ontario: the Appalachian, Michigan, Hudson Bay, and Moose River basins. All of these basins have potential for oil and natural gas exploration. There was no oil or natural gas contained in the crystalline rocks of the Canadian Shield. Current production occurs only in southern Ontario.

The first oil company was formed in south western Ontario. In 1851, Charles Nelson Tripp of Woodstock, Ontario formed the International Mining and Manufacturing Company with his brother Henry. The company’s main focus was to explore for asphalt beds and oil and salt springs, manufacture oils, naphtha paints, burning fluids, varnishes, and related products. Five years later, James M. Williams, a railway carriage manufacture, bought Tripp’s land and oil rights but Tripp stayed on as a landsman.

Williams formed the J.M. Williams Company in 1857. After many unsuccessful attempts at commercial production, Williams decided to hand-dig and cribbed a well that was forty-nine feet deep. This well produced as much as 150 gallons per hour by hand pump. The oil was refined for illuminating oil and lubricants. He abandoned the Oil Springs refinery and moved his business to Hamilton, Ontario. Williams reincorporated his firm as the Canadian Oil Company, opening facilities for petroleum production, refining, and marketing. This company was considered to be the first integrated oil company in the world.

The next major discovery was in 1866 about twenty kilometres away in the town of Petrolia. Unfortunately, the boom was short and ended in 1894. The town hung on and in 1901 the Canadian Oil Refining Company was incorporated. The legacy of this early oil town is felt today. Workers called Hard Oilers of the Petrolia oil field travelled to over eighty countries teaching others how to find and use crude oil. These men can be considered the fathers of the modern oil industry in the world. To pay tribute to the toughness of these ancestors, those born and raised in Petrolia are referred to as "Hard Oilers." As a further testament to the early workers, Petrolia’s 700 oil wells are still pumping today.

Another pioneer of the oil industry in Ontario was Albert Leory Ellsworth, a 29 year old from Welland, Ontario. He learned about the oil industry as an employee of Standard Oil Acme, Buffalo refinery. Ellsworth founded the British American Oil Company in Toronto. The company was organized with a Province of Ontario Charter dated 17 October 1906 under the authority of King Edward VII and was therefore a British company. This was then a British Company in Canada with American standards.

With the growth of the oil and gas industry also created regulations. The provincial government passed an act in 1907 in order to prevent the wastage of natural gas. This was one of the many acts to follow dealing with the management and conservation of energy resources in Ontario. Important acts to follow were the Natural Gas Conservation Act of 1921 and the Ontario Fuel Board Act of 1954. On the reverse side, Ontario started the deregulation of natural gas in 1985. The original agreement between the federal and Ontario government was to allow customers to purchase natural gas at market price rather than at regulated prices. However, volume requirements resulted in large commercial users benefiting from the regulation. After many rewrites a new system was devised to allowed natural gas marketers to have multi-year contracts with the customers. Payment was collected by the utility delivering the gas and then paid to the marketer, meaning that small and large volume customers had access to the same benefits brought by deregulation.

Currently 1100 oil wells and 1200 gas wells produce in commercial quantities. There is also some private gas wells used for non-commercial purposes in parts of southern Ontario.


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