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Petroleum Exploration History of British Columbia, Canada

Janicki, Ed 1
1 British Columbia Ministry of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources, Victoria, BC, Canada.

An investigation into the petroleum exploration history of an area of interest - whether big or small - is a useful prelude to working up plays based upon geological models. If patterns of hydrocarbon development are understood in their historical context, exploration can be effectively directed to the right questions, such as why some areas are densely drilled and others lightly explored. The reasons may have less to do with geology than other factors. A documented historical summary can be a great time - and money - saver for geologists unfamiliar with new areas of responsibility.

Within northeastern British Columbia, areas of sparse development (white-areas) are interspersed with areas of relatively dense drilling. The question naturally arises why some areas have remained so lightly explored. The first wells were not drilled in the northeast, so it is important to step back and look at the history of petroleum exploration from the earliest days - even before the settlement of European immigrants. Gas seeps were known in the Vancouver region before any settlement had taken place; and this knowledge attracted nascent oil companies at the turn of the 20th century. Some success in discovering small pockets of gas in unconsolidated sediments led to a short-lived industry there. At roughly the same time in the Peace River region of the northeast, early settlers had been directed to oil seeps by aboriginals. The first serious exploration efforts in the Peace River region took place in proximity to those seeps in the 1920’s. High potential was demonstrated by some wells, but the great depression of the 1930’s intervened.

During World War II the Alaska Highway was built to ensure a secure supply of energy for the American forces on the Pacific theatre. Much of the highway passes through British Columbia, and reasonably close to the known seeps. After the war many oil and gas finds were quickly developed near this corridor. At the same time, discoveries in neighbouring Alberta, notably the Leduc Formation middle Devonian carbonate reef trend, were followed into British Columbia. This trend led to other new discoveries, which in turn led to new roads and more discoveries.

Some wells have been drilled in the white-areas, but without much success until recently. Now new technology is opening the potential for unconventional gas and some of those white-areas will fill with dense drilling.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90090©2009 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, Denver, Colorado, June 7-10, 2009