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With Gwyn Morgan as trail boss, a seasoned crew of Alberta hands, and a record of success, EnCana joined a growing band of Canadian energy companies — Petro-Canada, Talisman, Suncor, Nexen, Canadian Natural Resources, Enbridge, Atco, and others — that rank among the world's leading energy producers.
On the tumbleweed prairie of southern Alberta, then just part of the North-West Territories, where the brown grass shimmers in the haze of summer heat and aside from tiny cactus plants the only green is seen in the coulees, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was having no luck finding a source of water for its steam locomotives that would soon trundle all the way across the continent on the tracks its contractors were busy laying.
Thirty-five miles west of Medicine Hat, the bit of a cable tool drilling rig in 1883 was slowly pounding a hole in the ground at CPR Langevin No.1 in search of water. It was winter by the time the bit reached a depth of 1,120 feet when "a rather singular phenomenon presented itself," a Calgary newspaper reported. It was "gas, which rushes out of the tube, which, on taking fire emits a flame sufficient to light up the surrounding country." The cable tool kept pounding the hole down, still looking for water, but less than a month later, escaping gas caught fire, demolishing the drilling rig and its frame building in a ball of flame. "Prospects for water between Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw are not very encouraging," CPR general manager William van Horne reported to the company's head office in Montreal after the failure at Langevin.
The CPR may have failed to find water on the parched southern prairie, but discovered Canada's first large natural gas field, one of the largest that would ever be found in Canada. From that emerged, over more than a century, one of Canada's two largest energy companies that would ultimately join forces to form the world's largest independent oil and gas producer.
Following its first Langevin well, the CPR next year drilled a second one nearby, this time not for water, but for gas. Instead of coal, gas from the first well was used to fire the boilers at the rig pounding the second hole. When it was completed, gas from this well was used for heating and cooking at the railway's section house and other nearby buildings. The CPR thus became Alberta's first gas producer.
With apparently more gas than water beneath its prairie railway lands, the CPR decided that perhaps this might be worth developing, and in 1906 brought Eugene Coste from Ontario to direct the effort. Coste, as we saw in chapter three, discovered the big Bow Island gas field on CPR lands and founded a company to pipe it 162 miles to Calgary. The CPR began to collect royalty and lease revenues.