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The Astonishing Oil History of the Gaspé Basin and Its Long March Towards a First Commercial Success


The first published account of the occurrence of petroleum in Early Devonian-aged Gaspé Basin is in the Proceedings of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec in 1836. As early as 1843, William Logan, founder of the Geological Survey of Canada, then on a field mission to find coal accumulations, found oil seepages in an area of the Gaspé Bay later named Tar Point. In a highly noticed report, Logan (1844) referred to bituminous matter and petroleum seepages in the Gaspé area. Logan’s description of oil occurrence in Gaspé basin sedimentary units has been cited as being possibly the earliest reference to accumulation of petroleum in an anticlinal structure (Zaslow, 1975). Encouraged by Logan's descriptions and the oil craze in Pennsylvania, Gaspé Bay Mining Company made the first oil well drilling in Canada in 1859 in the Gaspé Basin. In 1866, a pamphlet published in New York extolled Gaspé's merits as one of the most promising oil regions ever discovered. For the London market, the proximity of the port of Gaspé had advantages over the wells of Pennsylvania. Subsequently, the region saw several bursts of exploration activity toward the end of the last century, and in the early part of the present century. Many wells were drilled with little or no regard to geology or the regional structure (Ells, 1902-03; Skidmore, 1970). More than 80 scattered seepages have been mentioned by Logan (1863), Parks (1930) and McGerrigle (1950). Between 1890 and 1903 over fifty wells were drilled in eastern Gaspé. This period covers the first historical phase of exploration of the Gaspé Basin. Despite extensive oil and gas shows in the wells, and several seepages of oil in the Devonian Grande Grève carbonates and York River elastics, commercial quantities of hydrocarbons have so far evaded the explorationist. This paper will focus on the outstanding exploration efforts made by the Petroleum Oil Trust (POT) and their subsidiaries. The company was big at the end of the 19th century. Petroleum Oil Trust of London, England, drilled a total of 53 wells between 1892 and 1901, has built 120 kilometers of roads and houses for 200 workers. These wells were drilled with cable-tool equipment to depths of 1,500 to 3,700 feet. The project receives support from the government of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, who aims to make Gaspé an important port. The presence of the oil industry would be an added advantage. As a builder and visionary entrepreneur, the president of POT, William Carpenter worked on the establishment of a regional railway and the development of an industrial port. In a decade, more than £800,000 will have been invested in Gaspésie. Oil was produced from some wells. A small refinery was also built on the initial encouragements, but sustained commercial flow was hard to obtain from low pressure wells. The Petroleum Oil Trust has pumped a few thousand barrels of oil before a major fire at its facility causes the bankruptcy of the company (Annett, 1983)