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Imperial Oil’s Dominant Role in the Canadian Oil Industry

By Robert D. Bott
Calgary-based writer, editor and consultant
Board member – Petroleum History Society
Author, Evolution, a brief history of Canadian oil and gas,
Canadian Centre for Energy Information (2004)

Imperial Oil Limited has been Canada’s dominant integrated oil company since it was established in 1880 as an amalgamation of Ontario refiners. Initially Imperial tried to fend off John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust, but succumbed to the Trust in 1898. After the breakup of the Trust in 1911, Imperial became a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey, and is now 69.6 per cent owned by ExxonMobil. Imperial has led many of the notable achievements of the Canadian oil and gas industry:

  • Sponsoring research that led to the process for desulphuring refined oil products;
  • First cracking plant, and many other advances in refining;
  • The Norman Wells discovery in 1920 and the Leduc discovery in 1947, two of the most significant in industry history;
  • Extensive operations in South America from 1920 to 1948, and a tanker fleet supplying oil to Canada;
  • Lead partner in the Interprovincial Pipeline, the world’s longest petroleum pipeline;
  • A major role in Alberta oilsands development, including the first commercial in-situ project at Cold Lake and a major interest in the Syncrude project.

This will just be a brief overview of a history that could fill volumes. Much of the material will be drawn from Earle Gray’s new history, Ontario’s Petroleum Legacy, which Bott has edited, and from Mileposts, the 1989 corporate history of Interprovincial Pipeline, which Bott authored.

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