Calgary & Southern Alberta
Dingman No. 1 well in Turner Valley, Alberta, 1914
Courtesy of the Glenbow Collection
William Stewart Herron, an Okotoks farmer, made the first gas discovery in Alberta when he noticed gas bubbling along the banks of Sheep Creek in the Turner Valley. In 1913, Herron, in partnership with Archibald W. Dingman, formed the Calgary Petroleum Products Company. One year later, the two men struck gas when they discovered the Dingman No. 1 well. This discovery inaugurated the Turner Valley oil era. News of Herron and Dingman’s discovery sparked financial speculation in Calgary; speculators formed more than five hundred companies overnight. Despite local interest in Turner Valley, Herron’s discovery failed to attract eastern Canadian investment, which was a necessary requirement for exploration in the field. When World War I began, interest in the field further waned. By 1921, representatives of Imperial Oil -- the Canadian subsidiary of American Standard Oil of New Jersey -- noted that the Turner Valley area did not produce enough oil to warrant calling it a proven field.
Other factors contributed to Turner Valley’s slow development. While primitive drilling techniques hampered exploration, inadequate transportation links impeded the development of prospective markets. In addition, no suitable oil and gas refineries existed in the province. It became evident to local businessmen that oil and gas production in Alberta required outside capital and expertise, and American companies quickly took up the challenge. As early as 1917, Standard Oil of New Jersey acquired land leases for future exploration in the province. By 1921, the American company had leased 369,537 acres. To further promote Standard Oil’s interests in Alberta, representatives of Standard Oil signed a joint agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). The CPR promised to reserve the most promising mineral holdings for the Canadian subsidiary of Standard Oil Imperial Oil and its new subsidiary, Royalite Ltd. In return, Standard Oil would share any future profits with the CPR. Royalite Ltd., which had been formed in 1921 when Standard Oil took over the floundering Petroleum Products Company, struck gas in 1924. Royalite’s discovery stimulated renewed interest in the Turner Valley field. In 1925 a pipeline was built to connect Turner Valley to Calgary.
A.W. Dingman giving the Duke and Duchess of Connaught
a tour of Dingman well no.1, Turner Valley, Alberta, 1914
Courtesy of the Glenbow Collection
In the 1920s Turner Valley became known as "Hell’s Half Acre." Suffering from a lack of markets for excess gas, companies in the field burned it off in a giant coulee. It is estimated that companies wasted approximately 90 percent of the field’s gas in this manner. By the 1930s, the provincial government began to establish measures to reduce wastage in the field. The 1931 Oil and Gas Wells Act authorised the formation of a committee to formulate conservation measures. This initiative was followed one year later by the passing of the Turner Valley Conservation Act. The federal government, however, declared both acts unconstitutional. In 1938, the provincial government successfully established the Alberta Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board to initiate conservation measures.
By the time of the Conservation Board’s creation, however, interest in Turner Valley had waned due to the Depression. However, Robert A. Brown, an electrical engineer from Quebec, continued to believe that crude oil lay deep below the gas wells at Turner Valley. Brown borrowed money from British American and Imperial Oil and he formed the Turner Valley Royalties Company. The company began drilling in 1934 and struck oil in 1936. Brown’s discovery of Turner Valley Royalties No. 1 ushered in Turner Valley’s golden age; by 1939, the field had seventy wells that produced an annual revenue of $10 million. By 1945, however, the field began to decline and exploration companies turned their sights northwards.
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