Drilling for gas
Eugene Costa with a drilling crew
Old Glory gas well
  • Gas Town of the West<br/> Source: Image courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta, PC010811

    Alberta’s first natural gas discovery in Langevin eventually leads to the designation of Medicine Hat as the “Gas Town of the West.”

    Gas Town of the West
    Source: Image courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta, PC010811

  • Gas well blowing at Bow Island, Alberta<br/> Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4048-4

    At Bow Island, Alberta, the largest gas well drilled in Canada to date is directed by Eugene Coste, the “father of the natural gas industry.”

    Gas well blowing at Bow Island, Alberta
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4048-4

  • Pipe for gas line, Bow Island area, Alberta, 1913 Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4048-1

    Eugene Coste builds a 270-km (168-mi.) long pipeline, one of the longest and largest pipelines at that time, to carry Bow Island gas to Calgary and Lethbridge.

    Pipe for gas line, Bow Island area, Alberta, 1913
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4048-1

  • Turner Valley Discovery Well Blowing, 1914<br/>Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1883

    Natural gas wet with condensate is first discovered in the Cretaceous level at Turner Valley with the Dingman No. 1 well by Calgary Petroleum Products, the company originally founded by William Stewart Herron.

    Turner Valley Discovery Well Blowing, 1914
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1883

  • Edmonton Gas Well, Viking, Alberta, ca. 1914<br/> Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-1328-66092

    Edmonton finds a natural gas supply in Viking, Alberta, but delays development due to war-related anxieties.

    Edmonton Gas Well, Viking, Alberta, ca. 1914
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-1328-66092

  • Original Royalite absorption, compression and scrubbing plant, ca. 1926<br/> Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1882

    Royalite Oil Company Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Imperial Oil, gains entry to Turner Valley and begins an aggressive campaign to dominate petroleum production there.

    Original Royalite absorption, compression and scrubbing plant, ca. 1926
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1882

  • Pipeline at MacDougall Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, 1923<br/> Source: Glenbow Archives, ND-3-2062

    Edmonton, Alberta, receives its first delivery of natural gas from the Viking-Kinsella field that had been discovered in 1914.

    Pipeline at MacDougall Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, 1923
    Source: Glenbow Archives, ND-3-2062

  • Burning Gas at Royalite No. 4, Hell’s Half Acre, Turner Valley, Alberta, 1924<br/> Source: Glenbow Archives, ND-8-430

    Royalite Oil punctures the gas condensate reservoir in the Mississippian rock formation at Turner Valley, and Royalite No. 4 erupts in fire.

    Burning Gas at Royalite No. 4, Hell’s Half Acre, Turner Valley, Alberta, 1924
    Source: Glenbow Archives, ND-8-430

  • In December 1929, Mackenzie King signs natural resources transfer agreement prior to the passage of legislation in 1930<br/> Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A10924

    The Canadian federal government transfers control of natural gas and other natural resources to the provincial Government of Alberta through the Natural Resources Transfer Acts of 1930.

    In December 1929, Mackenzie King signs natural resources transfer agreement prior to the passage of legislation in 1930.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A10924

  • An Act for the Conservation of the Oil and Gas Resources of the Province of Alberta<br/> Source: <em>The Oil and Gas Conservation Act</em>, SA 1938, c. 15

    Oil and Gas Resources Conservation Act becomes law, and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board, now the Energy Utilities Board, is formed as the regulatory authority for all gas and oil operations.

    An Act for the Conservation of the Oil and Gas Resources of the Province of Alberta
    Source: The Oil and Gas Conservation Act, SA 1938, c. 15

  • Shell Oil Jumping Pound Gas plant, 1952<br/> Source Provincial Archives of Alberta, P3009

    The largest gas reservoir in Canada at the time of discovery, the Jumping Pound field becomes a symbol of the need to resolve the stalemate over whether or not Alberta should export its natural gas; without adequate markets, it remains shut in until 1951.

    Shell Oil Jumping Pound Gas plant, 1952
    Source Provincial Archives of Alberta, P3009

  • But of course! Gas The Modern Fuel! In the years following World War II, the development and use of natural gas skyrockets due, in part, to rigorous marketing.<br/> Source: City of Edmonton Archives, EA-275-1776

    Efforts to promote natural gas as a safe, clean alternative to coal help the market expand rapidly, and large-scale processing and pipeline projects are constructed to serve the growing market.

    But of course! Gas The Modern Fuel! In the years following World War II, the development and use of natural gas skyrockets due, in part, to rigorous marketing.
    Source: City of Edmonton Archives, EA-275-1776

  • Handling sulfur at Madison natural gas facility, Turner Valley, 1952<br/> Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P2973

    In 1952, facilities in both Turner Valley and Jumping Pound begin to convert the toxic hydrogen sulfide in sour gas into benign elemental sulfur, and by the 1970s Canada becomes the largest exporter of sulfur in the world.

    Handling sulfur at Madison natural gas facility, Turner Valley, 1952
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P2973

  • <em>An Act to Incorporate a Gas Trunk Pipe Line Company to Gather and Transmit Gas within the Province</em><br/> Source: <em>The Alberta Gas Trunk Line Company Act</em>, SA 1954, c. 37

    Alberta Trunk Line Company is established in order to gather and transmit Alberta’s natural gas for domestic consumption as well as for export outside of the province.

    An Act to Incorporate a Gas Trunk Pipe Line Company to Gather and Transmit Gas within the Province
    Source: The Alberta Gas Trunk Line Company Act, SA 1954, c. 37

  • TransCanada Pipeline<br/> Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1355

    TransCanada Pipeline exports the first gas piped to eastern Canada over a single pipeline, longer than any other single length of pipeline in North America at that time.

    TransCanada Pipeline
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1355

  • Tom Adams (l) and Stan Jones (r)<br/> Source: Courtesy of Gwen Blatz

    Tom Adams and Stan Jones found the Meota Gas Co-operative, the first in what becomes a widespread movement to provide gas service throughout Alberta’s rural areas.

    Tom Adams (l) and Stan Jones (r)
    Source: Courtesy of Gwen Blatz

  • Just relax...we're just going to take a sample. November 14, 1980<br/> Source: Glenbow Archives, M-8000-710

    Prime Minister Trudeau introduces the national Energy Program (NEP), which sets prices for oil and gas well below international prices.

    “Just relax...we’re just going to take a sample.” November 14, 1980
    Source: Glenbow Archives, M-8000-710

  • Amoco sour gas blowout at Lodgepole near Drayton Valley, 1982<br/> Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, J3747-1

    The Lodgepole sour gas blowout smells up the air for weeks, highlighting a growing conflict between the desire for economic development and the need to safeguard the public.

    Amoco sour gas blowout at Lodgepole near Drayton Valley, 1982
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, J3747-1

  • Tied in coal bed methane (CBM) well, Ponoka, Alberta<br/> Source: Courtesy of Encana Corporation

    As conventional sources of natural gas have matured and declined, the industry has increasingly focused its efforts on developing unconventional gas resources such as shale gas, tight gas and coal bed methane.

    Tied in coal bed methane (CBM) well, Ponoka, Alberta
    Source: Courtesy of Encana Corporation

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Accidental Industry

The difficulty of locating natural gas beneath the surface of the Earth did not mean that gas was untapped as a resource; it did mean, however, that its discovery and use were often a matter of chance. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many discoveries of natural gas were purely accidental, often occurring as a result of drilling or mining for some other desired resource. Other discoveries relied upon the keen observation skills required to detect a seep; evidence might be bubbles in a stream or funny tasting water or even flames quietly burning on a hillside.

The earliest documented use of natural gas in Alberta resulted from accidental discoveries made while searching for something else. As Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) trains steamed their way across western Canada, railway workers needed steady supplies of water and

coal to keep their locomotives running. In 1883, CPR drillers pierced the Earth near the Langevin (renamed Carlstadt in 1910 and Alderson ca. 1915) CPR railway Siding No. 8, 55 km (34 mi.) northwest of Medicine Hat, seeking water; they found gas instead. This event was considered noteworthy enough for publication in December of 1883:

At Langevin, 4th siding west of Medicine Hat, a rather singular phenomenon has presented itself. The well-borers have reached a depth of 1,120 feet without finding water, but a gas which rushes out of the tube, which, on taking fire emits a flame sufficient to light up the surrounding country.
- Calgary Herald Mining and Ranche Advocate and General Advertiser

The discovery may have been accidental, but the outcome was fortunate as the gas was able to be put to good use at the nearby section house for cooking and heating. A second and less opportune accident illustrated the continued ignorance about the power of natural gas. Reported in a January 1884 edition of the Calgary Herald was an explosion that destroyed a building and caused several injuries.

In the year 1890, the CPR made another inadvertent contribution to the birth of

the gas industry when, in digging for coal along the South Saskatchewan River near Medicine Hat, it hit gas. Medicine Hat residents were quick to envision the possibilities of a cheap source of heat and light and borrowed the CPR’s drilling rig to pursue the gas. They capitalized on their resource by using it to enhance their town and attract industry with the promise of an inexpensive and conveniently available fuel source.

Fortunately, modern geosciences have made it possible for us to identify places likely to sit atop natural gas so that we don’t have to wait for a lightning strike or a drilling accident to reveal it to us. The likelihood that southern Alberta might lie above rich petroleum reserves was recognized as early as 1886 by one of Canada’s greatest scientists, George Mercer Dawson, then working for the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC). After investigating the wells accidentally “discovered” at Langevin, Dawson

accurately predicted that it was “probable that a …supply of [natural combustible gas] will be met with over a great area of this part of the northwest, and that it may become in the near future a factor of great economic importance.” The GSC and scientists like Dawson lay the groundwork for later petroleum exploration and development through their indefatigable efforts to survey and document the abundant natural resources of the vast then-wilderness of Canada.

In this Section

Geological Survey of Canada

Originally chartered in 1841, the Geological Survey of Canada is one of the nation’s oldest government organizations and its first scientific agency.

George Mercer Dawson

George Mercer Dawson has been described as having possessed Canada’s foremost scientific mind of the latter nineteenth century.

Medicine Hat

As renowned British author Rudyard Kipling wrote for Collier’s magazine in 1908, Medicine Hat is “The Town that was Born Lucky.”

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