The first oil field in western Canada was Turner Valley discovered in 1914, south of Calgary, where large supplies were discovered at a depth of about 3,000 feet (910 meters). Calgary became the oil capital, with a reputation for swashbuckling entrepreneurship. Turner Valley was for a time the largest oil and gas producer in the British Empire.

In 1947 an even bigger field opened at Leduc, 20 miles (32 km) south of Edmonton, and in 1948 oil mining began at Redwater. Both these fields were overshadowed in importance in 1956 with the discovery of the Pembina field west of Edmonton. Other fields were discovered east of Grande Prairie and in central Alberta.

Production Methods

The oil well is created by drilling a hole 5 to 50 inches (127.0 mm to 914.4 mm) in diameter into the earth with a drilling rig. After the hole is drilled, sections of steel pipe (casing), slightly smaller in diameter than the borehole, are placed in the hole. Cement may be placed between the outside of the casing and the borehole. The casing provides structural integrity to the newly drilled wellbore, in addition to isolating potentially dangerous high pressure zones from each other and from the surface.

After drilling and casing the well, it must be ‘completed’. Completion is the process in which the well is enabled to produce oil or gas. Small holes called perforations are made in the portion of the casing which passed through the production zone, to provide a path for the oil to flow from the surrounding rock into the production tubing.

The production stage is the most important stage of a well’s life, when the oil and gas are produced. The top is usually outfitted with a collection of valves, these valves regulate pressures, and control flows. From the outlet valve of the production tree, the flow can be connected to a distribution network of pipelines and tanks to supply the product to refineries, natural gas compressor stations, or oil export terminals. From collection and distribution points near Edmonton the oil is sent by pipeline to refineries, some as distant as Sarnia, Toronto and Montreal to the east, Vancouver to the west, and especially the U.S. to the South.


In 2007 conventional crude oil production made up approximately 28% of Alberta’s crude oil production, which is 21% of Canada’a overall crude oil production.

Alberta produced 81% of Canada’s crude oil in 1991, when Alberta’s traditional oil fields peaked; output is now steadily declining

Most of the crude oil produced in Alberta is exported to other markets. The crude oil that remains in the province is refined into transportation fuels and other oil products to heat homes and buildings, generate electricity, and manufacture lubricants, waxes, plastics, synthetic rubber and asphalt.


The Oil Development Business Unit promotes and encourages exploration and development of reserves, collects royalties from producers, and markets the Crown’s share of crude oil production through private sector and in-house marketing agents.

The Unit also supports the development of new technologies for recovering oil and reducing the impact of oil development on our environment. Together with industry, they focus on finding innovative and more efficient ways to extract a higher percentage of crude oil from conventional reservoirs. The limitations of present day technology mean that only an estimated 26 per cent of available oil is currently recovered, leaving 74 per cent of the resource in the ground.