PAY-OFF IN OIL
A roaring flame above a prairie town, a dizzy boom in land, a stampede of roughnecks—and Canada had a new oil field
SIX MONTHS AGO a traveller always could get, a room in the two-story brick hotel at Leduc, 19 miles south of Edmonton on the highway to Calgary. He always could find a stool at the Maple Leaf café, or a cue at the poolhall. The only day in the week when many people were around was Saturday. If a traveller visited Leduc often he probably knew by sight or name many of Leduc’s 864 citizens and some of the farmers, too.
Today he’d be lucky to find anyone he knew. Citizens and farmers alike are almost lost in the dozens of men in plaid and khaki shirts, high boots, wide-brimmed hats and oil-stained overalls—wildcatters, the men who search for new oil fields.
The pool room is full of oilmen off shift, drillers and cathead men and lead tong men and derrick
men. Upstairs in the hotel, past the deserted desk with its “No Rooms Vacant’’ sign, oilmen sit around a blanket-covered table and play quiet, dollar-limit poker. In the beer parlor below some oilmen drink beer and others drink a mixture of beer and tomato juice. The mid-European accents of the Ukrainian and Polish farmers and the clear prairie speech of the townspeople mix with the more precise English of Easterners and occasionally with the drawls of Texas and Oklahoma.
And among oilmen and farmers alike the talk is not of crops but of the latest drill stem test at Number Five, or the $130,000 Pete Hairysh got for his half section, or the $41,000 the widow Kate Malchak got for her quarter, or the $58,400 for which Bill Sicz sold the quarter he had worked for 30 years.
The boom started at, 4 p.m. last Feb. 13 on a farm owned by Mike Continued on page 8
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Turta seven miles northwest of Leduc, when miledeep pressure built up over a million years blew gas and oil and drilling mud 50 feet from the floor of Imperial Oil’s Number One drilling rig. An oilman swiftly turned the flow into a three-inch steel pipe running 200 yards across the stubble, another tossed a flame, and from the open end of the flreline a roaring column of fire and smoke billowed skyward to burn until the oil was clear of mud.
A few hours later, when the heavy smell of gas and oil wras beginning to dissipate in the crisp winter air, the oil began running purely—fine brown oil which would be easy to refine, with high gravity and a low natural gas content. It was turned into storage tanks and production men figured in notebooks the extent of the flow. The answer, about 39 barrels an hour, made Imperial Leduc Number One the most important oil well ever discovered in Canada outside of Turner Valley—and so close to the large transportation centre of Edmonton that the bright; hope it would develop into a large field was like the answer to an oilman’s dream.
The Rush for Rights
WITHIN a day, as word spread across Canada and the United States, the rush was on. Oilmen flowed in by train and car and plane from Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, and the northern States. Cheque books in one hand and fountain pens in the other, they drove and even walked over the frozen country roads seeking mineral rights not previously leased by Imperial in the area. Many worked free-lance, buying from farmers and selling to anyone who would pay the price. One man made $75,000 that way. The oil rights to one quarter section were sold 11 times, always at a profit.
In two months representatives of the largest and most powerful oil companies in the world, and representatives of some of the smallest and least powerful, had six million acres under lease within a 100-mile radius of the discovery well—paying from $1 to $400 an acre.
Imperial Oil, Canadian affiliate of Standard Oil (New Jersey) and Canada’s top-spending oil explorer, had more than two million acres under lease. Gulf Oil tied up about 100 thousand acres less and McColl-Frontenac, Canadian subsidiary of the Texas Oil company, had about 1,100,000 acres with one corner of its holdings only six miles from the discovery well. California-Standard was the other big company active in the area, with Home Oil, Globe, South Brazeau, Okalta Oil Company, South Leduc, Royal Canadian, Gas and Oil Products, Mill City, Mercury Oils, Leduc-West Oils and Anglo-Canadian the most active independents.
Imperial acted rapidly to hold its lead in the new field. From wildcat operations in a dozen areas of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, drilling crews, geologists, road builders, and production engineers were ordered to Leduc. Some sent their houses along ahead—houses usually 12 feet wide and 20 feet long, built on skids for easy transportation to and from railroad flat cars, for the wildcatters are always on the move. They came, themselves, in cars or buses or trains, with their wives and children. Within a month 20 of their houses had arrived and were set up in two streets in the Leduc exhibition grounds and the children had started to school. The unmarried wildcatters crowded into the hotel and homes.
The oilmen’s wives, main spenders of the estimated $20,000 monthly oil payroll in the area, began exploring the stores for food. Fruit juices, which never had sold well in Leduc, were out of stock within a week. In two months one storekeeper reported his sales up 100%, another 50%. H. F. Bohlman opened a new hardware store. Workun’s self-serve grocery closed one week for alterations so it could handle more business. The Leduc bakery, whose fluffy bread and rolls are bright spots on the plain fare of the now-rushed hotel coffee shop, the Maple Leaf café and the Union café, began building an addition. As an aftert hought the bakery Continued on page 64
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Pay-off in Oil
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I bought and installed a modern popcorn I machine (fresh daily).
The Bank of Montreal opened dozens I of new accounts. A few weeks after the j discovery the Royal Bank opened a I Leduc branch and while a new bank building is going up, operates in the municipal council chamber. Early in ' April, when the council met, the twoj man bank staff moved its cash drawer ! and ledgers to an open wooden counter outside the council chamber door and carried on there for a week while the j council finished its business. Among I new by-laws passed was one prohibiting I parking of trucks on Leduc’s main j street, so there’ll be room for passenger i cars.
Leduc’s two lawyers worked 14 hours a day advising farmers on disposition of j their mineral rights. Real-estate men, including the mayor, Leo St. Clair I Gaetz, worked from breakfast time to j late at night handling land transfers.
The mayor’s son worked as a free! lance lease man for six weeks, then ! bought a new car. Eugene Prefontain opened a taxi business, Leduc’s first. C. Albright, the dray man, built and placed in operation another horsedrawn dray, making two.
The women’s beverage room, used little by Leduc women, got a bigger I play when the oil families arrived, j Saturday night, the big night in any prairie town, became twice as big with the dances crowded and the beer parlor jammed. One night at a dance an oilman tangled with a townman over something the oilman said to a girl, and the townman lost the fight and several teeth. The oilman was fined $100 and costs and left town.
The Thirst for Oil
The reason for the boom is contained in the simple arithmetic of Canada’s oil consumption and production. In 1946 for our automobiles and oil furnaces, floor wax, machine oils, Diesels, chewing gum, plastics, synthetic rubbers, inks, paint, aircraft, flv sprays, roofs, roads, ointments and laxatives we used 65million barrels ! of oil. We produced about seven and a half million barrels. The flow from Turner Valley, Canada’s only major oil field, declined to six and one third million barrels from its 1942 peak of 10 million barrels, and the decline will continue because Turner Valley is petering out, as any oil field must eventually. We depend for most of our imports on South America and the United States, with the cost of a barrel of oil frequently almost doubled
by long shipping hauls. But United States oil reserves are dwindling, too. Some U. S. Congressmen already have suggested a cutdown or ban on oil exports to conserve the American supply.
If this happened, unless we found new fields of our own before then, Canada would be forced to mine oil from the vast tar sands of Northern Alberta, and the price of oil products to the consumer would jump. To maintain our gasoline supply it might be necessary to manufacture synthetic gasoline from present reserves of natural gas—a process uneconomical as long as the supply of crude oil holds out.
To fight the decline the oil industry will spend between $15 millions and $20 millions this year exploring for Canadian oil—mainly in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1946, when about $13 millions was spent on oil exploration, 182 holes were drilled in Canada— a total of 114 miles down into the earth. Of these 69 showed oil in commercial quantity, 42 showed gas, 66 were dry and five remained to be tested. But of the 69 new wells brought in for oil 51 were in the LloydminsterLone Rock section straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border and the oil there is heavy and suited mainly for Diesel fuel and road asphalt. Gasoline and fine oils can be refined from it, but only in small amounts and at high cost. Eleven of the remaining 18 wells were in Turner Valley. That left only seven in new territory—and new territory is what the oil industry needs most. So geologists, seismic parties, gravitymeter parties, and magnetometer parties range the foothills and rivers and plains in trucks, on horses and afoot, and after them plod the wildcat drillers punching their steel bits a mile or two miles below the earth’s surface in the search for oil.
Two Wells for $23 Millions
In this search geologists base much of their judgment on the knowledge that, millions of years ago, seas covered the central plains of North America and also certain parts of the Atlantic and Pacific coastal areas which now are above water. Subsequent natural upheavals trapped sea-bottom deposits of fish, algae, twigs, seaweed and other organic material, and the slow, grinding heat and pressure of the ages distilled this organic material into oil. It doesn’t lie in free pools, but in rock formations shot through with pores ranging in size from a pin to a pencil. The pressure generated in distilling this organic material forces its migration sideways or upward until it is stopped against a barrier of nonporous rock. There it remains trapped, usually with dry or wet gas at the top, then oil of varying density depending on the field and often an underlayer of salt water— until a man in khaki pants and an opennecked shirt is smart enough, or lucky enough, or both, to point his finger into the ground above and say, “Drill here.”
That’s the trick—to find it. Imperial Oil has been looking for new fields since 1917 and had spent $23 millions in exploration and wildcat drilling ($18 millions of it since 1939) without getting a single commercial producer for its money until it rammed a drill pipe 5,066 feet into Mike Turta’s farm last February, and then struck an even bigger producer less than two miles away in May.
Completion of that first well w:as the climax of approximately a year of work in the Leduc area. First, in the spring of 1946, Imperial Oil geologists decided to give the district a careful going over. They informed the company’s land department, which went
to the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Alberta Government and leased mineral rights on large blocks of land in the area. All three large landowners have been selling only surface rights for almost 50 years, and thus control most of the province’s mineral rights. The land assured, the company sent into Leduc a seismograph unit—the most commonly used of the several scientific gadgets in oil exploration today.
An engineer attached to the seismograph unit drove up and down the country road allowances while the curious farmers were doing spring plowing and seeding. Here and there at widely separated points he tied red and white ribbons to a barbed-wire fence or to a bluff of scrub poplar. At each cluster of ribbons men in the portable drilling rig, following, drilled holes 55 to 60 feet deep, then moved on. In another hour the rest of the crew arrived. While two men strung microphones along the ditch for 800 feet from one of the holes, 10 pounds of dynamite were lowered into the hole. When the dynamite was detonated the shock waves shimmered down through the earth until they hit solid rock formations, then bounced back and were picked up by the microphones. The time they took to return (and thus the distance to solid rock) was recorded on photographic paper in a specially equipped truck nearby. This information would tell experts in laboratories in Calgary and Toronto the nature of the rock formations underlying the Leduc area.
A Field Is Born
The seismic units worked on through the spring and summer, and the hundreds of yards of photographic diagrams gradually grew into closely guarded contour maps. Studying these Imperial’s geologists finally decided there was a reasonable chance that a mile under the township directly northwest of Leduc the petroleum products of ages of natural distillation had been trapped.
The land department was informed again. Ivone Burn and his two field men—called “leasehounds”—called on Leduc farmers who owned freehold land. They offered $5, plus 50 cents peracre annually, plus 1214% royalties on any oil produced from the property, in return for a 10-year lease on mineral rights. When only a few Isolated holdouts were left the land men went to farmer Mike Turta. The crown owned mineral rights on the farm, but Imperial wanted five acres of surface rights to drill a well. They dickered with Turta on the basis of how much crop profit he could get from that five acres in a year, and settled on an annual rental of $50 an acre.
Finally, Imperial Oil phoned Vern Hunter, drilling superintendent (“tool pusher,” to oilmen) on one of the company’s wildcat drilling rigs, and told him it was time to move again. Hunter, a quiet, tanned man of medium height with a lifetime of oil business behind him, supervised moving his 136-foot derrick and rig and his drilling crews. He started the well— “spudded her in”—Nov. 20 and 85 days later Imperial had a producing well at 5,066 feet.
That started the rush. While other companies moved in on what freehold mineral rights Imperial hadn’t leased, Imperial tried to determine the size of the pool at Number One by drilling wells around it. Leduc Number Two, with Lome Leeson the tool pusher, had spudded in Feb. 12, a few days after preliminary tests showed Number One to be a hot prospect. It was one and a half miles southwest of Number One.
Hunter moved his drilling rig to Number Three, one and a half miles northeast of Number One, and spudded in there March 12. Drilling Contractors Ltd. was hired to drill Number Four, about a mile southeast of Number One, and spudded in March 30. Commonwealth Drilling Co. was hired to drill Number Five, and sent Lloyd McCallum as tool pusher to drill about a quarter mile west of Number One.
By the first week in May the four Imperial drilling rigs were still the only ones at work. Other wells had been located—Leduc West Oils and Continental-Leduc and Globe Oil-Leduc all in the same township as the discovery well. And McColl-Frontenac announced two, 16 and 24 miles south. But all were held up by roads and fields crushed to thick, clinging morass by the springtime passage of so much heavy traffic. McColl-Frontenac was making its second try in the area. It started a well near Wetaskiwin, 36 miles from Leduc, at the same time Imperial started its Leduc Number One, but the McColl hole was dry.
Land of Roughnecks
My first trip into the oil country began in a truck and finished in a farm democrat with two work horses straining and heaving in their harness to get it through the worst spots. The high buggy wheels sank so far into the mud that the bottom of the democrat graded the road as we went. The farmer who owned the team also owned a tractor, but on the previous day the tractor had bogged down on this same road and had had to be hauled out by a caterpillar. As we pulled in at Number Two the same caterpillar, towing a farm wagon, set off toward the gravel road two miles away to bring in the next drill shitt. At Number Four a farmer was making $18 a day hauling drill crews in and out by team and wagon.
That was late in April. Within a week the roads were so dry that I spent a day touring the wells in a pre-war Plymouth and only once had to hire a team to pull the car from a mudhole. In another 10 days the roads were safe enough for reasonable driving —and for hauling equipment. The summer boom really started then. From any road, looking out over this flat country of bush and black topsoil, you could see the derricks high against the horizon and on the breeze was the chugging roar of machinery probing the earth for oil.
Each well site looks like a gigantic windmill with a disordered group of sheds and shacks clustered at its base. A truck rattles across the stubble carrying water, a man appears from a tent carrying a blowtorch and disappears into the tarpaulin-covered uproar of the derrick floor. A cow grazes against a fence nearby, unconcerned by the chugging roar of the three 225-h.p. Diesels and the thin smell of oil and gas and machinery.
Two methods are used in oil drilling. One is the cable tool method, still in use in some parts of eastern Canada but uneconomical for deep wells. Its principle is to crush down through the earth simply by lifting and dropping a drilling bit on the end of a steel cable. The second method, rotary drilling, in recent years has been used in almost all important operations.
The business end of a rotary drilling rig is a heavy steel hit a little smaller than a gallon wine jug. It consists of three sharp steel cutting wheels, mounted so that they will chew their way through solid rock when the drill rotates. The bit is screwed into the bottom end of a steel drill pipe, lengths
of pipe being added at the top as the bit bores its way downward. At the surface on the derrick floor the pipe is clamped through the centre of a turntable which, spun by three 225-h.p. Deisel motors, rotates the linked lengths of pipe and the steel bit—perhaps 5,000 feet below.
The tool pusher is the boss of each drilling rig and under him are four drilling crews. Four are necessary because each works a five-day week and the rig runs 24 hours a day, including Sunday. There are no cookhouses on most well sites. The men bring sandwiches or tins of beans, which they heat with a blowtorch. Head of each crew is the driller and under him are four “roughnecks,” the cathead man, the derrick man, the lead tong man and the pipe racker. Newcomers to the oil country hesitate to call a big, tough guy a roughneck. You soon find you’d hurt his feelings more by not calling him a roughneck. Other men who work around the well site are called “roustabouts.” The two terms are as exactly definitive of certain jobs as the rank “vice-president” in banking.
Reaching upward like organ pipes, inside the 136-foot framework of the derrick, are 90-foot “stands” of pipe waiting to be added to the underground drill sections. Leaning out on his safety belt from a tiny wooden platform 90 feet above ground, the derrick man grasps the top of a stand and clamps onto it a pair of steel tongs attached to a block and tackle. The tackle hoists the pipe upward so that its base comes clear of the derrick floor below while the pipe racker yanks the bottom end over to the turntable. The cathead man and lead tong man screw it into the previous pipe, about two feet of which sticks out of the turntable. The driller, who bosses the show, then drops the new length into the hole until just enough remains in sight that another stand can be screwed on.
The men all wear tin hats and work like a well-trained gun crew, with the danger always present that if one man loses the rhythm a flailing drill pipe could cripple anyone not fast enough to get out of the way.
The drill pipe is 4 y¿ inches in diameter but the bit at the bottom cuts a nine-inch hole. Thin mud, pumped under pressure down through the drill pipe, cools the bit and picks up rock cuttings, then is forced back upward between the outside of the pipe and the wall of the well. At the surface the rock cuttings are sifted out for study by the driller and geologist, then the mud flows back into a tank to be used again.
As the drilling progresses the geologist assigned to the rig occasionally
orders “coring.” The drill pipe is pulled out and a special bit fitted to the bottom. It has smaller steel teeth and leaves a clear passage up the centre of the pipe, called the core barrel. When a core is pulled to the surface geologists, visiting officials, roughnecks, roustabouts and anyone else around get down and peer at the rock cores, smell them for oil, and wipe off the mud to see if the rock is porous.
Two Pools or One?
At 5,160 feet, in the same structure that produced oil at Number One, a core at Number Two smelled of oil. But the geologists weren’t happy. The rock had been porous, but the pores had been filled up by another mineral. However, they decided to run a drill stem test.
This, reduced to its simplest description, means that a pipe with holes in the sides (a gadget called a “bomb”) was run down to the bottom of the well and left there for an hour. Any gas or oil at bottom thus could seep in through the holes. When the bomb was withdrawn some gas and oil showed, but not in commercial quantities.
A day later additional coring showed the bit was back in dense, nonporous rock. Number Two looked like a dry hole, although there still was a possibility the small showing of oil would make it worth while acidizing-—dissolving out some of the limestone with hydrochloric acid so the oil would flow better.
Before taking any action to acidize at Number Two, however, a conference of company geologists and officials decided to drill it to the rig’s limit which is between 6,000 and 6,500 feet.
At about 5,380 they struck oil flowing at a rate about three times as high as that at Number One. Immediately they decided to drill Numbers Three and Four at least into this lower area —with the hot possibility that instead of one oil-bearing formation below Leduc, there were two, one below the other.
This news got around rapidly, although officially only the barest details were announced. Geologists and drillers working for other companies, about to drill in the same area, wanted to know all they could about rock formations, oil showings or drilling problems encountered by Imperial. They had a good way of finding out.
Most large oil companies employ “scouts.” A scout’s job is well defined. He merely must keep track of what all other companies are doing. One day he may dawdle around another company’s well, dressed like a visiting farmer. Another day he may get up
at aix and follow a rival seismic party out of town. One morning near Calgary a short time ago a scout was so close behind his quarry he helped change a flat tire.
The scout’s job is easier around a booming potential field like Leduc. Oilmen are closemouthed with strangers, but they talk among themselves. In the Maple Leaf café the tables are close enough together for a man to keep track of what is being said nearby. It’s even easier in the beer parlor.
Sometimes a scout can pick up valuable information from farmers, too, for most farm conversation around Leduc is about oil. Some farmers are bitter, some happy, but they all talk oil.
Mrs. Kate Malchak is one of the happy ones. Her husband died three years ago and a son was killed by a runaway horse two years ago. She’d been having trouble making a profit on her quarter section, two miles southwest of the discovery well. But this spring she sold it for $41,000 plus the usual 12)2% royalty. As far as money can assuage her troubles they are over. This initial payment in all cases is not taxable by the Dominion, and is nicked only by a 10% Alberta tax. Royalty payments, if a well comes in on her property, will be subject to regular income tax.
Some Struck It Rich
Bill Sicz is one of the happy ones, too. When Imperial’s landmen went through the area last fall, Bill’s brother, across the road, sold out for $5, plus 50 cents an acre a year, and royalty.
Each day for weeks later he came over and said that Bill was crazy not to sell. But Bill, for his own reasons, didn’t sell. After Imperial’s first well blew in, he got $58,400 from Home Oil for his quarter, surface and mineral rights. He intends to continue farming on another quarter he owns nearby, but in mid-April he bought a house in Edmonton for $8,000. “It is hard to find a hotel room in Edmonton when I visit my daughters,” said Mrs. Sicz. “Now we have some place to stay.” They intend to stake the youngest Sicz boy, who is 20, in any business he chooses.
Bill’s brother is resentful now, jealous of Bill and sore at Imperial Oil for taking his land so cheaply. The companies recognize the problem, but have problems of their own. If Imperial, for instance, had to pay $58,400 for every 160 acres of its twomillion acre reserve in the LeducEdmonton area, in addition to the high cost of exploration and development, it could never get its money back even if a major field were discovered. It’s one of the unsolved problems of the oil business. People like Bill Sicz’s brother, who sell cheap, make it possible for the land to be developed. But the others, the ones who refuse to sell, reap the first big rake-off if oil is discovered.
Many like Bill’s brother are kicking themselves for selling at $100 and $200 the oil rights for which others in the district now are getting $10,000 or $15,000 or $130,000. But, since they still have hopes that oil wall be found in their land and pay off in high royalties, they aren’t as sad as the farmers who never had oil rights.
The four largest landowners in Alberta—Hudson’s Bay Co., CPR, Calgary and Edmonton Corporation and the Crown—for the last 50 years have sold only surface rights on most land deals. Farmers without oil rights get nothing from oil found on their land except, a yearly rental for the four or five acres around the well—never much more than the land would produce in wheat.
I snoke to one man, one day, working silently with his son spreading manure overastubolefield. Anoil wellwasbeing drilled on his farm. He didn’t own
011 rights. In bitter phrases he spoke
his mind: He had spent a lifetime
carving this farm from the bush and making it pay, sometimes in the bad years not seeing a dollar in cash from one month to another. He had worked as hard as his neighbor—“perhaps a little harder,” he said. Now, because by a fortunate chance his neighbor had bought mineral rights with his land, his neighbor was planning to spend the rest of his life in Edmonton, or California; he wasn’t sure which. The delicate new green pushing up through the moist black earth, which had always been enough pay for the months of hard work, did not seem enough now. If oil came on his farm at 1,000 barrels someone else would get $255 a day royalty. The farmer, his silence gone, and forced to look at and detour around the lofty derrick and jumbled pile of machinery on his land, would get a little more than $200 a year.
Among the farmers working the land on which Imperial’s first five wells were drilled, only one owns mineral rights —John Przystal at Number Four. His quarter is one of the least productive farms in the area and his shack is bare and too small for his growing family. The other four, who never before had envied John Przystal, envy him now. If four 1,000-barrel wells were drilled on his land, his income would be about $1,000 a day.
Mike Turta owns only surface rights on the quarter section where Number One was drilled. In the first month production at Number One was held to 7,500 barrels because the roads were so bad storage equipment couldn’t be moved in or oil moved out. Royalty on even that fraction of the well’s potential was about $2,300, payable to the Government of Alberta, which owns mineral rights there and also on Charles Sommers’ quarter section where Number Two was drilled. On Number Three, farmed by John Halwa, mineral rights are owned by Gottlieb Wedman, an old man with 22 children who lives on another farm nearby. John Bilozer farms the quarter where Number Five is located, but Western Leaseholds, Ltd., owns the mineral rights.
The farmer without mineral rights is a problem peculiar to Canada, since in the United States all rights are sold automatically with the land. Since Canadian law .says that no man may obstruct development of natural resources, a man owning only surface rights must let the oil company come in and drill. Most oil companies set a rental price above what the land would produce, but recognize that the logic of this doesn’t necessarily represent justice.
The Hunt Goes On
Unofficially one oilman suggested that the problem could be eliminated if the large land-owning companies which hold most of the mineral rights would agree to slicing their customary
12 lA% royalty to liy¿%. The one per cent difference could be given to the man owning surface rights. On a 1,000-barrel-a-day well the surface rights owner thus would get about $25 royalty every day, and few men can remain bitter at $25 a day.
The Leduc discovery has most of the public and oil-business interest right now, but it hasn’t slackened the search for oil elsewhere in Canada. In parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, other than Leduc, probably about 40 wells are in various stages of drilling this month.
Independents still like the Lloyd-
minster area, mainly because its 2,000foot producing level makes wells cheaper and easier to drill—although British-American, the only major Canadian company, operates mainly in the marketing field. In South Alberta California-Standard is pushing its 1946 Princess discovery, Shell its Jumping Pound area. Imperial’s Norman Wells, in the Northwest Territories, continues to turn out enough oil to supply its part of the north, although transportation costs make it uneconomical to ship Norman Wells oil south. And up in the bog and rockland, 250 miles northwest of Edmonton, Muskeg Number One is grinding down close to an area which the five major companies backing it hope will produce oil. The 75-mile road into Muskeg from Entrance, Alta., nearest rail point, cost $250,000 and the well will cost $1 million to complete.
In the Maritimes the search goes on, too; in Gaspé; in western Ontario; in the rolling land close to dwindling Turner Valley; and in the foothills of the Rockies, where drills grind down 11,000 to 13,000 feet before they hit formations which geologists think may
produce oil—although they never have.
But the best bet of the oil industry this summer is Leduc, despite the certainty it will be months before oilmen know for sure whether it is a major field. Meanwhile, they are supercautious. They don’t want unwarranted, or even half-warranted, optimism to make it easy for promoters to float stock issues based more on guess and hope than reality—with the resultant high mortality rate on the pocketbooks of our harried citizenry.
But here is an informed guess from one of Canada’s leading geologists: If another two wells come in at Leduc as strong as the first two, the field’s potential may be 30 million barrels. If 10 wells come in, all as strong as or stronger than Number One, it may be a 100-million-barrel field or greater, a discovery at least as important as Turner Valley. And if that happens it will mean swift growth to Leduc and Edmonton, cheaper gasoline and oil to everyone on the Prairies, a major addition to Canada’s natural resources and at least a temporary home for the wildcatters before they hit the road again in their unending search for oil. ★