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Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Don Axford

Donald Axford (1920-2005) was instrumental in the search for oil and gas offshore in Atlantic Canada. Born in Winnipeg in 1920, he served in the navy and then pursued degrees in geology and physics at the University of Manitoba. Upon graduation in 1948, Axford joined Socony-Vacuum Exploration Company, the predecessor to Mobil Oil Canada. He served as chief research geologist at Mobil from 1956 to 1960. Axford believed that there was a sedimentary basin off of Nova Scotia and nearby Sable Island that held a large amount of oil and gas reserves. He convinced Mobil Oil to acquire the mineral rights. This became a pivotal moment in the Canadian petroleum industry. When Axford became vice-president of exploration, he managed the first well to be drilled on Sable Island in 1967. Oil was then discovered on the now famous Hibernia, Newfoundland offshore site leading to the massive production to come. Both these initiatives, spearheaded by Axford, led to all the oil and gas exploration off of the east coast.

Axford retired from Mobil Oil in 1976 but moved on to become vice president of Petro-Canada for a brief time. He subsequently started Axford and Associates, a consulting firm, and Trax Petroleum. He was director and chairman of Canadian Superior Energy Inc. and recently worked with Endless Energy. The Canadian Petroleum Association honoured Axford with a distinguished service award in 1977. The Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists gave him the Stanley Slipper Gold Medal in 1996 for exploration excellence, while the American Association of Petroleum geologists gave him a distinguished service award in 1982. He was vice president of that association in 1992-1993. In 2001, he was inducted into the Petroleum Hall of Fame and was the first OTANS Petroleum Pioneer Award recipient in Halifax.

Donald Axford is viewed as the father of offshore drilling exploration in Canada. Upon his death in March of 2005, OTANS Chair Tom Hickey gave this statement to Ocean Resources:

Without the vision and talent of Don Axford, it is no exaggeration to say that Canada’s offshore industry may never have existed,” said Hickey. “All of us who make our living from this industry today owe a debt of thanks to Mr. Axford.


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