There’s Oil In Them Hills: Part Two
In the last edition, part one on the history of oil development in Bragg Creek began with the 1913 Mowbray-Berkeley well situated on what we know as the Provincial Park and worked through numerous startups throughout the 1920s and 1930s. One such well, the Herron Pete, was drilled by veteran oilman W.S. Herron Sr. on the flats between the Ranger Station and Elbow Falls. It was spudded in 1929 but closed in 1930 supposedly for a short period.
Holding vigil over the Herron Pete property for more than ten lonely years was Patrick McCarthy. Offered the position of caretaker in 1930, he was to stay until the well reopened. From the cook shack of the abandoned camp, he made a home and built a gas separator to use the natural gas for cooking and lighting. Interesting cigarette lighters — all operated by natural gas — could be found throughout his living room. He also devised a running water system with a shower. His nearest neighbour, Elbow Ranger Ted Howard, brought him his weekly mail and supplies and during the winter, Ted became his sole contact with the outside world, except for the occasional passing First Nations visitor or trapper. The campground eventually built in this same area — Paddy’s Flats — was named for Patrick.
More drilling activity in the late 1930s and 1940s occurred in and around Moose Mountain. These wells sported names such as Moose Oils, Model Canyon, and Elbow Falls, for their locations near or on local geographical sites. Jim Craig, whose family bought recreational property in the Bragg area in the summer of 1944, recalls a bit of the freewheeling boom-and-bust era.
“In the early 40’s I remember an oil well dug by the McColl-Frontenac Oil Company, near the location of Elbow Falls. Over 9000 barrels of oil were produced from this area, before the oil dried up. When I was there, they were pumping the oil into barrels, which were taken to a processing facility by truck. One day, when I was a youngster, I was tramping around in the bushes above Elbow Falls and I ran across a fellow named O.D. Bone, who was coring the limestones for the oil companies. In those days there were no regulations about saving the cores, so after they were examined, they were simply dumped onto the ground. I also ran into a beautiful conventional derrick all made from huge timbers in the bush above the Falls. It was a rotary rig and there were large surface casing drilling bits present. No one was around when I was there, and evidently the rig never drilled to depth. The hole was abandoned, likely due to faulting. The rig was dismantled and hauled out.”
The story of oil and gas in the area continues, with both Husky and Shell operating many wells in the areas of Moose Mountain, Elbow Falls and West Jumping Pound. Shell’s first well was drilled in 1959 and is still active today. Shell also added several large compressor stations over the years and both companies have pipes leading to Shell’s (now Pieridae Energy Limited) Jumping Pound Complex (gas plant) that sits just off Highway 1. New drilling technology enabled additional wells in the early 2000s. Today the field is well developed and additional infill drilling (drilling wells in spaces between existing wells) opportunities are rare. Yet, throughout the history of drilling in the area, nothing rivalled the drilling fanfare of the Mowbray-Berkeley.
Sources: Schedule of Wells Drilled for Oil and Gas. The Petroleum & Natural Gas Conservation Board, (AER) Province of Alberta; 1975; www.aer.ca/providing-information/data-and-reports/maps-mapviewers; Purmal, Freda, Early Oil Wells, Our Foothills. Freissen, Manitoba, 1975; Cassidy, Crystal: Interview, December 2018; Jim Craig: Bragg Creek Notes & Interview, 2017; Anton, Colin: Shell Canada; Interview, Dec. 2018; Lloyd, Eric: Interview, January 2019; Moggert, Ron: Interview, September2019. https://www.shell.ca/en_ca/media/news-and-media-releases/news-releases-2019/shell-sells-foothills-sour-gas-assets-to-pieridae-energy-limited.html