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The Galloping Geezer

The Galloping Geezer
~ Jack Downey Comments on Canadian Issues

Jack Downey ~ The Galloping Geezer
Photo by Julie Ann Biggs

Oil and Gas Grease the Alberta Skids
... an overview of how Oil and Gas affect Alberta's economy and how it all started ...


Oil and Gas are found In Alberta, BC, Sask, Ontario and offshore of Nfld. There are also reserves in the High Arctic but at this time it is uneconomical to move them South.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Canadian Oil was first discovered in small amounts in and around Petroleum Ontario. Out West, the first Well was "spudded in" in what is now Waterton International Peace Park in the Southwestern corner of Alberta. This well was soon abandoned as not of commercial value.

In Turner Valley, just South of Calgary, the Dingham #1 blew in with a bang in the 1920s. The Alberta Oil Boom had begun. Turner Valley soon became known as "Little Chicago" and an adjacent town, Black Diamond, was developed. It was said that "if you couldn't get it in Turner Valley or Black Diamond, it did not exist." From Alcohol to Whores and on to Zippers, you could learn your ABCs in these wide-open Oil towns. You could also lose your shirt or life and many did!

Oil is still being produced from those geological strata even today, but there is a problem. In the early days only oil was wanted, so they flared off millions of cubic feet of natural gas. These gas flares lit the skies for miles around and seriously relieved the pressure needed to drive the oil up the pipes to the surface. It is estimated that only one third of the oil in the Turner Valley Oil Field has been recovered due to the loss of gas pressure caused by flaring.

The next major hit, in the late 1940s, was near Leduc (just South of Edmonton.) Imperial Oil headquarters had issued orders to stop drilling on this Wildcat, but the crews kept drilling for another day, against those orders. Imperial # 1 blew in. It spewed oil up to the heavens, caught fire, and the grain fields around Leduc were burning pools of Black Gold. In a fairly short time the well was brought under control and the Leduc oil fields went to, and are still at, full production. Driving through that part of the country today, "Pumpjacks" or "Donkeys" can be seen everywhere.

As a point of interest, the drilling Derricks come on site, spud in, drill the hole, cap it and move on. The Christmas Tree control valves are part of the system as are the Pumpjacks that you see bobbing up and down even between the runways at Calgary International Airport.

Exploration took off and spread to BC, Saskatchewan, the High Arctic and eventually Newfoundland. The worlds biggest oil reserve was right on the surface at Fort McMurray Alberta, on the mighty Athabaska River!

The Athabaska Tar Sands have been known since the beginning of time. First Nations people used the tar to caulk their canoes, burn in their fires etc. The Tar Sands comprise humongous patches throughout the area. Heavy Oil (as it is known) is difficult to recover from the sand, and could not compete with the crude oil from deep wells. Through research funded by Canadian Government grants to Universities and massive cash input by the Oil Companies, an answer was found as to how to economically "crack" this oil enigma. Enormous diggers load huge trucks and rail cars full of the oil and sand mix, which is then taken to the Cat Cracker (Catalytic Cracker) and Separator where it is refined into oil for your furnace or car as well as into a zillion other petroleum based products. Today Researchers continue to look for more efficient ways to recover this heavy oil.

Who's Getting Rich?

You may well ask. Naturally, the Shareholders in Oil Companies, who provide the risk capital, are seeing returns. The big winners, however, are the Alberta and Federal governments. They tax the living hell out of the Petroleum Industry. The actual price of Gas and Oil is not high, BUT the taxes on Petroleum products, like the Gasoline, Diesel and Propane that you use to get to work, heat your home, or drive for pleasure, are sky high. The best way to beat the high price of Gas etc. is to invest in a reputable Oil Company (I did.) Your dividends will offset your gasoline costs. You're also investing in your Canada, if you chose Canadian companies.

The Farmer on the land over the oil, with a few exceptions, is not a big winner. The original Homesteader, when getting his/her "Clear Title" (Deed) could, for an extra two bits an acre, buy the mineral right to his/her land. Few did. He/She typically had no money to spare and, with one look around the bald homestead, one could easily see that there was no sign of any minerals other than the useless alkali in the sloughs! Little did these homesteaders know that Oil and Gas, as well as the World's largest coal deposits (over two miles thick), were beneath their worn boots!

Most Mineral Rights ended up staying with the Alberta Government. These Mineral Rights are auctioned off for millions of dollars to the highest bidder. The winning Oil Company then negotiates a Surface Rights contract for access to drill. If a production well is found, there is a rental payment of $1 to $2,000 a year for the acre or so to put the Pumpjack on.

Two Exceptions to the Rule

Folklore has it, that a Cowpoke by the name of Stan Reynolds, of the Reynolds Museum fame in Wetaskawin (Cree for "Hills of Peace") Alberta was a Used Car salesman. A farmer need a vehicle and had no cash. He offered Stan 40 acres of scrubland for a car. Stan needed a place for his daughter's horse to graze. A deal was cut and a deal IT WAS! "A not very good car, for 40 acres of not very good land" The deed was transferred to Stan BUT neither party noticed the Mineral Rights were included. Needless to say the Oil Landsman came and a hole was drilled, and Eureka! Stan had money to burn. (At lease that's the story told to me by my father. He liked hyperbole also.)

A Dairy farmer just Southwest of Edmonton was prosperous and content squeezing teats twice a day. Along comes an Imperial Oil Landsman and wants to drill a hole. The Teat Squeezer agrees. The ancestor of the happy farmer had bought the mineral rights on the homestead. Down goes the drill bit and ups comes the oil. The farmer was squeezing teats, when in rushed the Tool Push with the news "Oil, Oil, we've got a gusher!" It is said that the farmer kept on squeezing and said, "so have I"! Imperial Golden Spike is the richest pool ever hit in Canada, if not in the World! The entire pool is underneath the happy, teat squeezing, farmer's land. Five wells were spudded in. Four are alternately rotated to production the odd well out is used to take the Butane that is cracked off and returned back down the hole to keep the pressure up and wash residual oil over to the other wells. When the oil is gone, the Butane will be recovered and go into your cigarette lighter or camping stove cartridge. Have you any idea what the happy, Very Rich, farmer is doing today? Right, he is still squeezing teats 'cause that's what makes him happy (or so he told me).

So when you hear our politicians brag about the "Alberta Advantage" their pulling your teat. Any one could run this Province with all the Black Gold that flows up the pipe.

An excellent Video film by The Petroleum Community Foundation, a CKUAM-FM Production classification Popular History of the Alberta Oilpatch Titled "Rough Necks, Wildcats and Doodlebugs" is available from The Calgary Public Library. In the rest of Canada through The Petroleum Community Foundation 403 264 6064 ~ www.pcf.ab.ca ~ one of my old drinking Campinaro, Tom Wark (Deceased and Spudded in) relates many a wild and woolly tales about the Oil Patch before it needed patching. Ask your local TV Station to run it. Or you teachers get it for your class (I would rate it as +14) as there is mention of a few scandalous endeavors by the not so gentlemanly Oilmen in the past. They were a rowdy bunch. I'm sure the Foundation would loan it out to any Out of Country TV Stn. as well. It is Amusing as well as Informative and isn't that what Canadian Culture is all about?

Heritage Park in Calgary has a full scale, working replica of the Dingaham #1 Oilrig, Alberta's first commercially viable well. Calgarians have more than just the Stampede, they are proud of our unique Canadian Oil heritage too.

Many thanks to The Calgary Library "Ask the Liberians Project" who tracked my old pal Tom Wark down. Thanks also to Rohna at Heritage Park and the Petrocan clan for their help too. None of them are as rowdy as we were in the old days, but nevertheless a good bunch of Roughnecks.

Signed; the Galloping Geezer

Jack C. Downey CD
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