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

Play Timeline

Cable Tool Drill

The technology first used in the petroleum fields of Alberta descended from the drills used by the Chinese as long as 2,000 years ago. The salt drillers of Sichuan Province had figured out how to suspend a sharpened iron bit from a wooden tripod and, by raising and lowering it repeatedly, smash through earth and rock in order to reach the desired brine. They poured in water to flush out the drillings and inserted bamboo tubes to keep the bore hole open. They even brought up natural gas, which they originally feared as an evil spirit from the underworld but eventually used to fuel the heating process

employed to evaporate the water from the salt.

A variant of the Chinese salt drill was the spring pole rig used in the United States beginning in the early nineteenth century and then brought to Canada. This device was constructed of a bit attached either to wooden rods or to a cable suspended from a flexible sapling propped up on a fulcrum. Using a kick board or foot loops, the bit was lowered repeatedly against the ground, thereby pulverizing the earth into which the bit was driven. One Canadian feature was the addition of runners so that the rig could be moved as a sled from well to well.

Not that much had changed by the beginning of the twentieth century when the standard device was a cable tool drill. Like the earlier models, it relied upon the power of percussion to break through earth and rock. Made of tempered steel, the chisel-nosed bit would be widest to “spud in” a well or begin drilling; as it descended it was replaced with narrower bits, becoming as small as 15 cm (6 in.). At each strike, the bit would be turned slightly so that the hole pounded into the ground would reflect the diameter of the bit itself.

Modern advances over the Chinese technology included the substitution of steam power for foot power to raise the bit as well as the replacement of the wooden tripod or sapling with a constructed derrick. Derricks were square open towers ranging in height from 20 to 30 m (66 to 96 ft.) and raised over rig cellars dug into the ground about 6 m (20 ft.) deep. Until the 1920s, these derricks were built of wood which was then phased out in favor of steel.

Cable tool drilling was difficult work and often quite dangerous. The bits had to be pulled out and sharpened regularly. As the drill bit descended, it produced chips that would fill the hole, requiring drilling periods to alternate with baling periods when the bore hole would be

flooded and the resulting mud would be lifted out with a baler. Thus, progress was painstakingly slow, and when a bit did finally pierce a reservoir, it was possible for the pressure of the gas to send it shooting up through the rig as a screaming projectile.

Coal Conventional Oil Turner Valley Gas Plant Natural Gas Oil Sands Bitumount Electricity & Alternative Energy