• Lambton County oil field, Ontario, ca. 1860. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-302-9

    The first oil well in North American is drilled.

    The first oil well in North American is drilled in Lambton County, Ontario, in 1857/58. Although the oil field here is relatively small and nearly exhausted after a few years of production, it marks the beginning of Canada’s oil industry. The region, particularly around Sarnia, continues to be a major centre for petrochemical research and refinery operations.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-302-9

  • George Mercer Dawson (standing centre) and his survey party, 1879. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-302-7

    Oil seeps in southern Alberta are documented.

    George Mercer Dawson conducts numerous surveys of western Canada and its resources for the International Boundary Commission (1873-1874) and the Geological Survey of Canada (1875-1901). In 1874, he reports oil seeps in the Waterton area, 225 km (140 mi.) south of Calgary.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-302-7

  • Rocky Mountain Development Company oil well in the Waterton region, ca. 1902. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-1585-7

    The first producing oil well in Western Canada is drilled.

    In 1902, the Rocky Mountain Development Company drills a well on Cameron Creek (in what is now Waterton Lakes National Park). It is the first producing oil well in western Canada.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-1585-7

  • Calgary Petroleum Company wells (Dingman No. 1 and No. 2), Turner Valley, 1914. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1304

    Petroleum is found in Alberta’s Turner Valley.

    On May 14, 1914, the Dingman No. 1 well strikes wet gas in the Devonian reef formation deep under the surface of Turner Valley, Alberta. Other wells are soon drilled, and the Turner Valley field becomes Canada’s largest oil and gas producer.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1304

  • Oil flowing from British Petroleum No. 3 in the Wainwright oil field, 1925. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A10793

    A new discovery rekindles hope that large reservoirs of oil will be found beneath Alberta.

    Discovered by British Petroleum in 1923, the large Wainwright oil field revives hopes for the Alberta oil industry.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A10793

  • Signing of the federal-provincial agreement transferring natural resources to the Province of Alberta, December 14, 1929. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A1092

    Control of natural resources is transferred to the provincial government.

    The agreement transferring jurisdiction of natural resources from the federal to the provincial government is signed in Ottawa, December 14, 1929, and enacted the following year. (Seated, starting second from left, are Hon. Charles Stewart, Minister of the Interior and Mines; Rt. Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King, Prime Minster of Canada; and Hon. John Brownlee, Premier of Alberta.) The transfer allows Alberta to realize the full economic potential of the oil and gas resources found within its borders.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A1092

  • Oil well Royalties No. 1 as a gusher after striking oil on June 16, 1936. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-2335-2

    The Oil Column phase of Turner Valley development begins.

    The Royalties No. 1 oil discovery, in the Mississippian geological structure under Turner Valley, sets off another oil boom for the region.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-2335-2

  • Oil well Imperial Leduc No. 1 blows in on February 13, 1947. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1342

    Leduc No. 1 sets off the modern oil sector in Alberta.

    Imperial Leduc No. 1 blows in, setting off the modern oil sector in Alberta. The discovery of the Leduc oil field, then the largest and most lucrative yet found, comes after decades of fruitless searching and drilling. It marks the beginning of Alberta’s modern oil industry and completely revolutionizes the province’s economy and prospects.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1342

  • Corner of Railway Avenue and Main Street, Redwater, Alberta, 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A9763

    Additional oil discoveries confirm Alberta as a major oil producer.

    Oil derricks dot the landscape, and smoke from a new oil well rises from the horizon beyond the hamlet of Redwater. On the heels of the Leduc discovery, Imperial Oil finds a second major oil field near Redwater, northeast of Edmonton. Larger and easier to access than Leduc, this discovery confirms Alberta’s future as a major oil producer.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A9763

  • A section of the Interprovincial Pipeline being laid near Regina, Saskatchewan, 1954. Source: Julian Biggs/National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada/PA-122742

    The Interprovincial Pipeline expands the market for Alberta’s oil.

    Completed between Edmonton, Alberta, and Superior, Wisconsin, in 1950, the Interprovincial Pipeline is a vital transportation link that makes Alberta’s oilfields financially viable. By 1956, the pipeline is expanded and extended to Sarnia, Ontario, and is transporting more than 200,000 barrels a day.
    Source: Julian Biggs/National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada/PA-122742

  • Laying the Trans Mountain Pipeline through Jasper National Park and the Yellowhead Pass, 1952. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A8495

    Alberta’s oil production is connected to Pacific markets.

    The Trans Mountain Pipeline, completed from Edmonton, Alberta, to Burnaby, British Columbia, in 1953, opens up Pacific markets for Alberta’s oil production.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A8495

  • A well-site geologist stands in front of the Pembina No. 1 well, 1953. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-5103-9

    “Fracking” opens up previously inaccessible oil reservoirs.

    A wellsite geologist stands in front of the Pembina No. 1 oil well. A joint venture of two oil companies, this well successfully strikes oil about 100 km (62 mi.) southwest of Edmonton. The oil at Pembina is accessed by a developing technology called sandstone fracturing or “fracking.” This technology makes it possible to extract previously inaccessible oil reserves and becomes more widely used throughout Alberta in the following decades.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-5103-9

  • A seismic crew unloads supplies in the Rainbow/Zama region, 1950. Source: Glenbow Archives, S-236-46

    Oil is discovered in Alberta’s remote northwest.

    In 1965, the Banff Oil Company drills successful wells in this region. They are the first major oil discoveries in this remote area of Alberta’s northwest.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, S-236-46

  • A long line of cars forms at a gas station in the 1970s. Source: Library of Congress, LC-U9-37734-16A

    The OPEC oil embargo rocks energy markets.

    Starting in 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) begins restricting oil exports to much of the Western world, including Canada. Fuel shortages become common, and the price of Alberta oil, one of the few remaining reliable and friendly sources of oil for industrialized nations, skyrockets.
    Source: Library of Congress, LC-U9-37734-16A

  • An aerial view of the oil fields of the Pembina and West Pembina region. Source: WikiCommons/Qyd

    West Pembina injects new life into Alberta’s oil sector.

    In October 1977, Chevron Oil opens the West Pembina oil field. It is the largest discovery in ten years and revives hopes for Alberta’s oil sector, which had been suffering from a lack of new discoveries over the previous decade.
    Source: WikiCommons/Qyd

  • Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minster of Canada (right), and Peter Lougheed, Premier of Alberta (centre), hold a joint press conference announcing a compromise on some provisions of the federal National Energy Program (NEP), September 1, 1981. Source: CP Photo/Dave Bunston, 03263367

    The NEP alienates Alberta’s oil patch.

    The National Energy Program is created by the federal government in 1980 to ensure a reliable and affordable supply of oil and gas for Canadian industry. The provincial government perceives it as an unwarranted intrusion into its affairs and as sacrificing Alberta’s interests in favour of those of Central Canada. Although a compromise is reached in 1981, bitter memories of the NEP continue to characterize Alberta-Central Canada relations.
    Source: CP Photo/Dave Bunston, 03263367

  • Peter Lougheed, Premier of Alberta (right), greets Brian Mulroney, Prime Minister of Canada (left), 1984. Source: CP Photo/Pat Price, 673836

    The Western Accord brings NEP regulation to an end.

    Within a year of this meeting, the Governments of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan will negotiate the Western Accord, which ends the National Energy Program, deregulates oil prices and encourages new investment in western Canada’s oil sector.
    Source: CP Photo/Pat Price, 673836

  • Smoke and steam billow from an Imperial Oil refinery in Calgary. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-2864-20312

    Environmental concerns challenge the practices
    of the petroleum industry

    Images such as these feed concerns through the Western world about environmental damage due to industrial development. In 1987, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development releases the report Our Common Future. It encourages the concept of “sustainable development” in an attempt to balance First World concerns about human rights and environmental degradation with Third World nations’ need for economic development. Although not directly related to the oil sector, this concept forms the basis for future anti-pollution and climate change strategies.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-2864-20312

  • Protestors gather in Calgary during the 16th Annual World Petroleum Congress, 2000. Source: CP Photo/Adrian Wyld

    The World Petroleum Congress meets in Calgary.

    The World Petroleum Congress, held for the first time in Canada, attracts industry and political leaders from around the world. A parallel counter-congress and protests occur in the city at the same time. As the new millennium approaches, Alberta’s oil sector faces pressure from increasingly dedicated and organized environmental and human rights activists.
    Source: CP Photo/Adrian Wyld

  • Heavy equipment at an oil sands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, GR1989.0516.394#3

    The oil sands dominate oil production in Alberta.

    In 2002, conventional oil production in Alberta is surpassed by oil sands production for the first time - a sign of the changing focus of Alberta’s oil sector.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, GR1989.0516.394#3

Play Timeline


Atlantic Accord: A 1986 agreement between the federal and Newfoundland and Labrador governments that provided for joint management of oil and gas resources off the East Coast of Canada.

Bitumen: The heaviest, thickest form of petroleum. In Alberta the two largest known sources of bitumen each contain more petroleum than the entire proven conventional oil reserves of the Persian Gulf. Synthetic crude oil produced from bitumen accounts for about 28% of Canada’s total oil production.

Blowout: An oil well that goes out of control and literally blows out, spewing drilling mud, natural gas, oil, and other liquids out of the well.

Cable tool rig: A device used to drill for oil and natural gas that used a heavy, chisel-like bit suspended on a cable and dropped repeatedly into the rock at the bottom of the hole.

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP): The representative body of the oil and natural gas industry in Canada. CAPP represents 150 member companies.

Catagenesis: The geological process, involving time, pressure and temperature, that causes organic matter (kerogen) to be converted into hydrocarbons.

Cathead: A spool-shaped attachment at the end of a shaft, around which rope and/or chain, for moving equipment, is wound.

Climate change: The alteration of long-term weather patterns. The phenomenon is caused by numerous factors, one of which may be human activity such as pollution.

Condensates: Slightly heavier components of natural gas discovered at Turner Valley and refined into fuels. They were an early commercial product that encouraged further development of the field and construction of processing facilities. These hydrocarbons bridge the line between natural gas and conventional oil.

Core analysis: The laboratory analysis of rock samples that are cut from an exploratory drill site or existing well and brought to the surface for examination. This examination is used to determine the capacity of the formation for oil and gas.

Derrick: A large load-bearing structure, usually of bolted construction (but once made of wood). It is erected over a well site to support drilling equipment and contain thea mast, which is used for raising and lowering drill pipe and casing.

Devonian Formation: Subsurface Geological material formed during the Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era (405 to 345 million years ago). This period was dominated by marine life. Much of the oil found in Alberta comes from rock formations from this period.

Diamond bit: A drilling bit that has a steel body surface with industrial diamonds set in the cutting surfaces.

Directional drilling: The technique of intentionally drilling at an angle from the vertical by deflecting the drill bit.

Discovery well: The first exploration well that locates a new petroleum deposit in a field.

Distillation: A process by which crude oil is separated into its component hydrocarbons, purified and refined into marketable petroleum products.

Dome: A geological, folded rock deformity that dips downward in all directions from the crest, like an inverted bowl.

Drill bit: The tool attached to the lower end of the drill pipe. A heavy steel head equipped with various types of cutting or grinding teeth.

Drill string: The drill string is composed of joints of pipe, along with drill collars, reamers, stabilizers, rubber fenders, and the rock bit.

Driller: A senior member of a rig crew responsible for making the decisions about the drilling process.

Drilling rig: A machine that drills oil wells.

Drilling mud: A special mixture of clay, water, and chemical additives pumped down the hole through the drill pipe and drill bit.

Dry hole: A well that is not capable of producing petroleum in commercial quantities.

Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB): A board created in 1938 to oversee the development of the Alberta oil and gas industry and control economic waste. (This Board has also been known as the Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board and also the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board).

Flare: A tower or pipe used to burn off excess or unwanted natural gas from a well.

Flaring: The burning of excess gas.

Formation: A geological location where oil and gas are found in rock.

Formation fracturing: A method of stimulating production by increasing the permeability of the producing formation. Also known as fracturing, fracing or fracking.

Fractionated: A formation that has been opened with pressure in order to extract oil or gas.

Gas oil: Term originally used to mean oil suitable for the manufacture of illuminating gas. Now used to designate an overhead distillate produce with an intermediate boiling range between that of kerosene and residual fuel oil.

Gasoline: A complex mixture of relatively volatile hydrocarbons, with or without small quantities of additives, suitable for use in spark-ignition engines.

Global warming: An aspect of climate change that specifically refers to the overall increase of the Earth’s average surface temperature. Brought about by natural events (ex. volcanic eruptions), and manmade causes such as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases: Gases, such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and water vapour) emitted from the extraction and/or processing of oil and gas that contribute to global warming.

Gravimeter: A sensitive exploration instrument that measures the effect of gravitational force variations, or gravitational pull in a specific direction.Also known as a gravity meter.

Gusher: An oil well that comes in under such pressure that it uncontrollably spurts oil and gas.

Heavy crude: Thick, sticky oil with a specific gravity of less than 20° API. It is viscous, dark in colour and does not flow easily.

Kerosene: A light form of oil distilled from crude oil. Often used for cooking and heating oil, as well as in solvents and jet fuel.

Liquid Condensate Oil: A type of unprocessed crude oil that contains some quantities of natural gas.

Magnetic survey: A procedure that measures and determines the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field at various points in a designated area.

Monkey board: The derrickman’s working platform, usually about two-thirds up the derrick, from which he/she handles the top end of the pipe when it is being run out of the drill hole.

Mud: The mixture of bentonite, barium sulphate, and other chemicals that is circulated to the bottom of the well during drilling to wash rock cuttings to the surface.

National Energy Policy: An energy policy developed by the Government of Canada to address the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s by ensuring a steady supply of oil and gas for Canadian use by promoting domestic ownership of resource companies, instituting price controls, and encouraging exploration. Western Canada, particularly Alberta, viewed it as unwarranted interference by the federal government into provincial jurisdiction.

National Oil Program: An energy policy developed by the Government of Canada in the 1960s. It aimed to encourage the development of Alberta’s oil sector by promoting exploration and keeping domestic prices high by restricting the imports of foreign oil.

Naphtha: A high gravity form of petroleum (gasoline) produced naturally by a well.

Natural gas liquids (NGLs): Ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), butane (C4H10), and condensates (heavier hydrocarbons) that are often found in natural gas. Some of these hydrocarbons are liquid only at low temperatures under pressure.

Oil patch: A colloquial term for the oil industry or certain parts of it.

Oil seeps: Locations at which migrating oil naturally reaches the surface.

OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries): An organization of certain oil-producing nations that aims to keep prices high through co-operative economic strategies, such as production and trade controls. Its member nations are Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya, United Arad Emirates, Qatar, Indonesia, Algerian, Ecuador, Angola and Gabon.

Petroleum: Derived from the Latin roots, petra, meaning “rock”, and oleum, meaning “oil”. This is the general term for all the naturally occurring non-renewable hydro-carbons, including natural gas, natural gas liquids, crude oil, and bitumen.

Pig: A device inserted into a pipeline that cleans and inspects the pipeline without stopping the transmission of oil.

Pipeline: A conduit made from a series of connected pipes used to transport oil and gas over long distances.

Pumping station: Machinery used to regulate the flow of oil through a pipeline.

Reserves: Amounts of oil and gas in the Earth.

Reservoir: A naturally occurring subsurface sedimentary rock formation that contains commercial quantities of oil and gas enclosed in or surrounded by layers of less permeable or impervious rock.

Rig: The derrick and surface equipment of a drilling unit. This machinery includes the derrick or mast, draw works, rotary, pumps, and mud system.

Rotary drill: A technology using a rotary drill pipe and bit, producing cuttings that are eliminated at the surface by a mud system.

Rotary rigs: Drilling rigs introduced in Texas in the 1890s, Although they appeared in Turner Valley, Alberta, in 1925, they were not used widely in Canada until a new exploration in Turner Valley began in 1936.

Roughneck: A word brought into Canada from the U.S. by the first American rotary tool drill crews, and meaning a member of the drilling crew who works on the derrick floor, up in the derrick or mast racking pipe, tending the engines and mud pumps, and on “trips” operate the pipe tongs.

Seep: Hydrocarbons that migrate to the Earth’s surface.

Seismic survey: A modern method in geophysics, based on the fact that sound waves travel through different kinds of rock at different speeds, used to find gas, oil, water, or minerals.

Shooting: Exploding nitroglycerine or some other high explosive in a borehole to shatter the rock and increase the flow of oil. Also called Torpedoing.

Shot point: The location where the detonation of a charge is made in seismic work.

Sour crude: Crude oil containing over 2.5% sulfur.

Sour gas: Natural gas that contains hydrogen sulfide (H2S).

Source rock: Sedimentary rock formations where crude oil and natural gas are formed.

Spud: To begin drilling operations, or begin making a hole.

Spudding: The practice of hoisting the drill bit and then permitting it to fall freely so that the drill bit strikes the bottom of the well bore with considerable force. This is done to clean the bit of sticky shale that may have slowed the rate of penetration.

Sweet crude: Crude containing 0.5% or less of sulfur.

Sweet gas: Natural gas containing little sulfur or sulfur compounds.

Terminal: An end-point or outlet of a pipeline where product can be removed from the pipeline for storage or loaded into different forms of oil transport, such as railway or truck tank cars or oil tanker ships.

Tool dresser: A worker who puts a new cutting edge on a drill bit that is worn or blunted. Also known as a “toolie.”

Tool push: A person who supervises the drilling of a well in the field and who has round-the-clock responsibility for all two or three drilling tours/shifts.

Torsion Balance Gravity Meter: A tool resembling a dowser’s divining rod, used to locate oil and gas.

Transmission: Moving oil or gas through a pipeline.

Upstream: That part of the petroleum industry that finds and drills for oil and gas.

Waste gas: Natural gas that is flared.

Wellhead: The equipment installed at the surface of the well bore upon its completion that contains the blowout preventer and tubular support devices.

Western Accord: An agreement between the Government of Canada and the governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, which ended the trade and pricing regulations of the National Energy Program and replacing them with free market principles.

Western Canada Sedimentary Basin: A geographic area with several source rocks (Ordovician, Upper Devonian, Uppermost Devonian, Lowermost Mississippian, Middle Triassic, Lower Jurassic, Lower Cretaceous and Upper Cretaceous) that contain active petroleum systems

Wet gas: Natural gas partially saturated with liquid hydrocarbons, or light crude oil (gasoline).

Wildcat: Drilling operations seeking new oil prospects outside regions of proven production.

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