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    Petroleum Engineering

    Encyclopedia Arctica 2b: Electrical and Mechanical Engineering

    Petroleum in the Arctic

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0299                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (Wallace E. Pratt)




    Fig. 1 Map showing petroleum in the Arctic 2-a
    Fig. 2 Monthly temperatures and hours of daylight,

    Barrow, Alaska

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    E.A.-I (Wallace E. Pratt)



            Any attempt to portray the petroleum resources of the Arctic should be

    prefaced by the admission that our knowledge of the pertinent facts is but

    fragmentary. No comprehensive study of petroleum in the Arctic of the West–

    ern Hemisphere has been undertaken. Exploration for commercially valuable

    accumulations has hardly begun. If studies and exploration in the arctic

    regions of Europe and Asia are further advanced, as published statements of

    Soviet scientists would indicate, the results have not been made known to the

    outside world.

            To define the Arctic precisely and logically involves some explanation.

    Neither the prevalence of low temperatures and extensive fields of ice, nor

    a paucity of vegetation and other forms of life is a sufficient criterion.

    Marine life abounds in arctic waters. Stefansson reminds us that winter

    temperatures lower than any recorded on the arctic coast of Alaska have been

    observed in Montana, a thousand miles farther south from the North Pole (8).

    Much of the Arctic, even near the Pole, is free from ice and snow; large areas

    of the “barren lands” of the Far North are actually grasslands and few arctic

    areas are more barren than are the tropical deserts of western South America.

    To differentiate the arctic climate and environment from those of the temperate

    zone requires the tracing of a sinuous and erratic dividing line. However,

    for the purpose of examining the occurrences of petroleum in the Arctic, it

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    will serve arbitrarily to designate as arctic all that region which lies

    north of the parallel of 60° N. latitude (see Fig. 1).

            The North Pole lies near the center of an ext a e nsive intercontinental

    depression - a downwarped segment of the earth’s crust surrounded by the more

    elevated land masses of the three continents, North America, Asia, and Europe.

    This depression is occupied by a comparatively shallow body of water to which

    many books and maps still refer as the Arctic Ocean. In reality the waters

    surrounding the Pole constitute a landlocked sea, rather than an ocean. The

    sea-like character of this body of water has long been recognized and it has

    been referred to appropriately as the arctic Mediterranean (9:10).

            The character of the land areas of the Arctic as the margins of a medi–

    terranean sea is, itself, significant in connection with their fitness to

    contain accumulations of petroleum. The two greatest known petroleum prov–

    inces on earth bear this same relationship to other mobile segments of the

    crust, typically downwarped and occupied by Mediterranean seas, enclosed by

    the positive elements of adjacent continents. The outstanding petroleum

    province on earth consists of the vast petroleum accumulations of the Middle

    East and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics around the shores of the

    Persian Gulf, the Caspian and Black seas, and the eastern end of the European

    Mediterranean. These seas lie in a depressed belt which is squeezed between

    the continental masses of Africa, Europe, and Asia. The American Mediterranean,

    the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, occupying the depressed area between

    the continents of North and South America, is the center of the second largest

    of the earth’s known petroleum provinces. Finally, the great region of land–

    locked seas lying between the continents of Asia and Australia, in the Far

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    Fig. 1

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    East, has also been proved to contain numerous large accumulations of petroleum.

    Moreover, some of the geological processes which characterize the negative seg–

    ments of the earth’s crust are also fundamental processes in the generation of

    petroleum (5). In view of all these observations, it is reasonable, once we

    recognize the Mediterranean character of the Arctic Sea, to anticipate the

    occurrence of petroleum in the rocks which surround and contain it.

            In the basins of sedimentation which have comprised the arctic crustal

    depression throughout much of earth history, a wide expanse and great volume

    of marine sediments have been deposited. From the earliest Paleozoic through

    the Cretaceous at the end of the Mesozoic, extended periods of sedimentation

    have recurred over wide areas. As a consequence, the arctic coasts and the

    broad continental shelves which underlie the marginal waters of the Arctic

    Sea are constituted in large part of sedimentary rocks which appear to have

    been laid down under conditions which were favorable for the generation of

    petroleum. The prospect is enhanced by the geologic structure, favorable over

    extensive areas, to the accumulation and retention in natural reservoirs be–

    neath the surface, of any petroleum which may have formed in the rocks.

            It is true that very large areas of arctic terrain are composed of pre–

    Cambrian crystalline rocks, which must be entirely devoid of petroleum. Much

    of Greenland beneath the ice sheet falls in this category, as does all of

    northeastern Canada, which includes much of the are a of dense crystalline rocks

    of the primitive continental shelf of North America. Scandinavia is also made

    up principally of similar old crystallines. But elsewhere in North America, Europe,

    and Asia the arctic rocks [ ?] are predominantly marine sediments, in fairly

    complete sequence as far back as the Cambrian, representing deposition in a

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    number of extensive sedimentary basins. The organic content of the marine

    facies appears to be of normal proportions and coal is present at several

    different horizons in the fresh or brackish water facies.

            In Alaska and the western part of northern Canada, thick series of both

    Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks outcrop over large areas. Devonian and Cretaceous

    rocks, in particular, are widespread and are known to be oil-bearing. Rocks

    of these two periods have recently been proved to contain numerous commercially

    valuable oil accumulations farther south in western Canada, where vast petroleum

    resources have been discovered in Devonian limestones.

            In northern Greenland, and in the islands west of Greenland, there are

    Paleozoic rocks: Cambrian, Silurian, Devonian, Pennsylvanian, and Permian. The

    Mesozoic is represented by Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous formations. Even

    the Tertiary rocks, coal-bearing and enclosing fossils of warm-water organisms,

    are present. All these periods are encountered in the Spitsbergen Archipelago

    also, and both Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks are present over large areas in


            Given this favorable geologic setting, it would be surprising, in view of

    our experience in the search for petroleum elsewhere in the earth’s crust, not

    to encounter surface evidences of petroleum in the Arctic. As a matter of

    fact, surface evidences in the form of seepages of oil and gas are so conspi–

    cuous in the Arctic as to have impressed themselves on the earliest explorers, in–

    tent though these men were upon quite other objectives.

            An entry in the diary of Alexander Mackenzie (2) under data of August 2,

    1789, when he was engaged in his pioneer exploration of the great river c w hich

    now bears his name, appears to record his observation of seepages of petroleum,

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    notwithstanding the fact that he identifies the substance in question as coal.

    Such a mistake is understandable since petroleum was little known in Mackenzie’s

    time; in any event, his description of the substance fits a petroleum residue

    better than coal:

            “We set out at three this morning with the towing line …when we came

    to the River of Bear Lake … in our progress we experienced a very sulphurous

    smell, and at length discovered that the whole bank was on fire for a very

    considerable distance. It proved to be a coal mine to which the fire had been

    communicated by an old Indian encampment.

            “The beach was covered with coals and … the Indian guide gathered some

    of the softest he could find, as a black dye; it being the mineral, as he in–

    formed me, with which the natives render their quills black.”

            This quotation is believed to refer to one of the copious petroleum seepages

    from Devonian rocks in the vicinity of the present site of the village of Fort

    Norman, Northwe s t Territories, in latitude 65° N., seepages which, more than a

    century later, led to the discovery of the Fort Norman oil field.

            Stefansson (8) noted the presence of oil on the northern part of Melville

    Island. There are many other seepages of petroleum in the Arctic, some of

    which are comparable in size and volume of flow with any seepage in North

    America. Typical of the larger seepages are those which flow from Cretaceous

    rocks near Cape Simpson, east of Point Barrow on the northernmost coast of

    Alaska, described more than twenty years ago by members of the United States

    G e logical Survey (3):

            “Seepage No. 1 occurs near the inland face of this ridge … Here, in an

    irregular area several hundred feet in diameter, the moss is soaked with

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    petroleum which also slowly seeps from the gentle slope. Seepage No. 2 [ ?]

    is … 3 miles almost south of Seepage No. 1 … Here the residue covers sev–

    eral acres. The main petroleum flow moves southward down the slope for 600

    or 700 feet to a lake.”

            If we attempt to portray realistically the surface evidences of petroleum

    in the Arctic, we must take some account of the Atha t b aska tar sands, which

    outcrop near Fort McMurray, Alberta, in [ ?] latitudes 57° to 58° N. The

    Athabaska tar sands cover an area of approximately 10,000 square miles; it is

    estimated that they contain 100 billion barrels, or more, or petroleum. They

    constitute the largest known individual accumulation is petroleum on earth. The

    Athabaska tar sands, therefore, are not without significance as to the possible

    petroleum resource of the Arctic of Western North America. (See also “Develop–

    ment of Bituminous Sands of Northern Alberta.”)

            While this occurrence is situated just outside the extreme southern limit of

    the Arctic, as here defined, yet the petroleum in it comes from Cretaceous or

    Devonian rocks, which extend northward for 1,000 miles to the Arctic Sea and are

    widely distributed in the Arctic.

            In all, the [ ?] area north of 60° N. latitude includes an area of roughly

    1.5 million square miles, exclusive of the continental shelves of Asia and

    North America, which consists of rocks favorable for the occurrence of petroleum.

    For comparison, it may be recalled that the continental United States, exclusive

    of Alaska, also contains an area of about 1.5 million square miles of rocks

    favorable for the occurrence of petroleum. Of the favorable area in the Arctic,

    about one-third, or 500,000 square miles, is situated in the Western Hemisphere,

    including some 200,000 square miles within the boundaries of Alaska.

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

            The several areas favorable for the occurrence of petroleum in the Arctic

    of the Eastern Hemisphere, covering in the aggregate about one million square

    miles, lie wholly within the U.S.S.R., principally along the arctic coast of

    Siberia. [ ?] The western world possesses only scant knowledge of these possible

    resources, although Soviet scientists state that they have been engaged in

    exploring them ever since 1934.

            Along the estuary of Yenisei River, where it flows into the Arctic

    Sea, and southward from Dudinka to Turukhansk, a distance of 300 miles, numer–

    ous test wells are repo r ted to have been drilled near petroleum seepages.

    In the vicinity of Nordvik on Khatanga Bay, 600 miles farther eastward along

    the arctic coast of Siberia, other oil seepage occur, and test wells have

    been drilled near them also. In this locality a number of salt domes (geologic

    structures which commonly house petroleum accumulations elsewhere) have been

    discovered. Near Nordvik, these intrusive plugs of salt, driving upward from

    profound depths, pierce, successively, beds of Devonian, Jurassic, and Cre–

    taceous ages, all of which are possible source rocks. Mu r ch farther east,

    again, along the arctic coast of Siberia, is the Iukagir district, where Soviet

    geologists recognize as favorable for the occurrence of petroleum, an area of

    some 300,000 square miles. To the south of this district oil has been found,

    at intervals along the entire course of the Tolba River, a tributary of the

    Lena. In the eastern part of this region, producing wel l s have been drilled

    within 200 miles of the Sea of Okhotsk on the Pacific coast of Siberia. Other

    producing wells are reported near Olekminsk, 400 miles farther west.

            Kamchatka Peninsula, east of the Sea of Okhotsk on the Pacific coast of

    eastern Siberia, long known, because of its geologic character and structure,

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    coupled with oil seepages, to be favorable for oil, lies adjacent to the

    Arctic but just outside its southern limit. It is confidently anticipated

    that commercial oil production will eventually be developed in this strategic


            In the Arctic portion of the Western Hemisphere, as has already been stated,

    the land areas favorable for the occurrence of petroleum are situated largely in

    the Mackenzie River valley of western Canada, in Alaska and, less important,

    in northern Greenland and the islands to the west of northern Greenland. Most

    [ ?] promising is the Mackenzie River valley and the adjacent Rocky Mountain

    front to the west of the river - a vast area known to be almost wholly under–

    lain by the Devonian rocks in which, farther south, a number of spectacularly

    large and prolific oil fields have recently been discovered. Systematic explora–

    tion, which is as yet hardly well begun, seems almost certain to multiply the

    number of major oil fields to be discovered in this rich petroleum province.

    Cretaceous rocks, likewise already productive in western Canada, also occur

    over much of the arctic portion of the Mackenzie River valley. Conspicuous

    and copious seepages of oil and gas characterize the outcrops of the rocks of

    these periods clear up to the coast. Other possible sources rocks (Mississippian, Pennsylvanian and Jurassic sediments) , already

    productive of oil in western Canada, farther south, also occur in the [ ?]

    arctic portion of the Mackenzie River valley.

            All the rocks series, promising for oil production, which occur in western

    Canada, are encountered also in Alaska, distributed cover wide areas and marked

    by favorable structural attitudes. The remarkable seepages, already described,

    near Cape Simpson, are representative of numerous surface evidences of the oil–

    bearing nature of the underlying rocks (Cretaceous and Tertiary in age), evidences

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    which have been noted at various points over a distance of several hundred

    miles along the northern coast of Alaska. In this region the Devonian rocks,

    so productive in western Canada, are again present beneath the Cretaceous. Other

    oil Seepages mark an extended belt of Jurassic rocks, which stretches for a

    distance of 350 miles along most of the coast line of the Gulf of Alaska and

    southwestward, along the axis of the Alaska Peninsula. From this province,

    remote and lacking adequate markets, a little petroleum has been produced in

    the past, but the producing operations have been sporadic and primitive. The

    scene of this activity is Katalla, on the southern coast of Alaska, east of

    the city of Cordova.

            In southwestern Alaska, in the vicinity of the lower courses of the Yukon

    and Kuskokwim rivers, in a region tributary to an ice-free coastline, there is

    a large area (more than 100,000 square miles) underlain by Tertiary and Cre–

    taceous rocks, which are possible source (and reservoir) rocks for petroleum.

    Despite its relative accessibility, no adequate exploration for petroleum has

    been undertaken in this part of Alaska.

            The preceding discussion of areas favorable for the occurrence of petro–

    leum in the Arctic is confined to the present land areas and takes no account,

    in either hemisphere, or the possibilities of the continental shelves. Ex–

    tensive continental shelves are known to exist, however, fringing all of the

    northern, western, and the southern coasts of Alaska, the northern coast of

    Canada and, in extraordinary width, the entire northern coast of Siberia. As

    has been demonstrated for parts of the continental shelves elsewhere [ ?] over

    the earth, the possible petroleum resources of the continental shelves of the

    Arctic may ultimately prove to be [ ?] of very large proportions.

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

            The only developed oil field in the Arctic of the Western Hemisphere is

    situated at Fort Norman, latitude 65° N., on the Mackenzie River in the North–

    west Territories. This oil field was discovered in 1920, by means of a test

    well drilled to a depth of about 1,200 feet near conspicuous oil seepages,

    under the supervision of Dr. Theodore A. Link, a geologist in the employ of

    Imperial Oil Limited, a private Canadian corporation. (See also “Development

    of Oil Fields in Canada’s North.”) The oil in this field is trapped in a De–

    vonian coral reef, sealed tightly above and below by fine-grained, impermeable,

    organic, black muds, also of Devonian age. The accumulation is of the same

    character as the great oil fields in similar Devonian reefs which have been

    discovered in rapid succession during the last two years (1947-49) in Alberta,

    farther south in the same geologic province.

            The Fort Norman fields has been producing oil in small volume for local

    marke t s (mining, trapping, river transportation, and occasional airplanes)

    ever since its discovery. The proved reserves are large enough to classify

    it as a major oil field. During World War II under the administration of the

    United States Army, development was accelerated; the producing rate was r ia ai sed

    to a potential of 5,000 barrels per day, and a pipeline approximately 565

    miles in length was constructed through a mountainous country to connect

    the wells with a refinery at Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. With the end of the

    war, the emergency demand cased, and oil field was returned to its

    owner t resume its established function as a source of fuel supply for the

    limited local markets.

            The most ambit i ous search for petroleum in the arctic region of the

    W e stern Hemisphere is that in the vicinity of Point Barrow on the northern

    coast of Alaska, inaugurated at the close of World War II and being carried

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0311                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    on currently by the United States Navy. This enterprise is directed to the

    development of U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4, an area of some 35,000

    square miles within the limits of which are many large oil seeps, set aside

    by the federal government, in 1923, for the exclusive user of the U.S. Navy

    (See also “Petroleum Exploration in Arctic Alaska.”) In this work, extensive

    geologic and geophysical reconnaissance surveys have been executed and some

    half-dozen exploratory wells have been drilled. Small volumes of all and gas

    have been encountered (to 1949) in this drilling, but the results so far can

    hardly be considered to be successful.

            To develop the potential oil fields of the Arctic is a formidable task,

    the difficulty of which is accentuated by social and political factors as much,

    perhaps, as by physical conditions. Indeed, the factor of low temperature with

    its attendant handicaps, which would doubtless appear to most of us to be the

    greatest obstacle to be overcome, is discounted by men with long experience

    in the effort.

            For example, the problem of permafrost (the permanently frozen surficial

    blanket of soil and rocks which persists downward to depths of hundreds of feet

    in much of the Arctic) is far [ frm ?] from insoluble. At Fort Norman, operations

    have proceeded through the winter months without serious interruption over a

    period of years. Water, sewage, and oil lines require to be heated to avoid

    freezing. Even oil walls may have to be equipped with steam-injection lines,

    but, apart from added costs, operations have not suffered materially because of


            The accomp na an ying chart, Figure 2, prepared by Lt. Commander William T.

    Foran, U.S.N., shows a tolerable range of temperatures and deviation of daylight

    at Point Barrow, the headquarters for the Navy’s operations on Reserve No. 4.

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    Fig. 2



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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    Although this coast is ice-bound nine or ten months each year, on the average,

    living conditions are healthful and reasonably comfortable throughout the year.

    Foran, who part i cipated in the early study of the Point Barrow region by the U.S.

    Geological [ ?] Survey and, twenty years later, returned to Point Barrow in charge

    of further geologic studies by the U.S. Navy, states:

            “The plains areas with the highest latitude on the continent (the Arctic

    coastal plain of Alaska) is characterized by a climate not nearly so severe

    as the oil-producing regions of northern Montana and west-central Alberta.

    The Arctic area is less subject to extreme low temperature, despite the fact

    that the mean annual temperature is 9 degree Fahrenheit and permanent frost

    persists to a depth of 625 feet below the surface.”

            However, a probably great obstacle is the remoteness of Alaska and the

    consequently exorbitant cost of the facilities necessary to produce and refine

    the oil and to transport the products to distant markets. Unles s [ ?] the volume

    of output is very large, unit costs will be intolerably high in each of these

    operations. Oil produced in northern Alaska, for example, should move south

    through large-diameter pipelines, hundreds of miles in length, traversing moun–

    tainous terrain, to r efining facilities at ice-free ports, whence the products would

    be borne by ocean-going tankers to the world’s markets. Small-scale operations

    could hardly be competitive except in the restricted local markets.

            But the greatest handicap to the development of [ ?] petroleum resources in

    Alaska, assuming that such resources do, in fact, exist there, is the wholly

    inadequate number of exploratory wells which are likely to be drilled in the

    prospective areas [ ?] under present conditions. In the search for oil fields

    over the earth, an extravagant number of exploratory wells have usually been

    drilled in a particular regions, before a commercially valu b able petroleum

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    accumulation has been discovered. This has been true even in the case of many

    of our riches petroleum provinces.

            Hundreds of wells were drilled in Alberta, for example, over a period of

    nearly thirty years following the discovery of its first oil field before the

    next major oil field was discovered in that province. Yet this record discovery,

    by providing us with a vague clue to the nature of oil occurrence in the Devonian

    rocks, touched off a campaign of quickened exploration, which within the next [ ?]

    two years found a half-dozen great new oil fields, and established the fact,

    finally, that this part of Canada constitutes one of the major petroleum

    provinces of North America.

            Similarly, hundreds of exploratory wells were drilled in the East Texas

    Basin, again over a period of thirty years, before the greatest of all Texas

    oil fields, the East Texas Field with its original reservoir content of some

    five billion barrels of oil, was found. Again, in the extremely rich petroleum

    province of western Venezuela, source of exploratory wells were drilled before

    a commercially valuable discovery was made.

            Contrast these [ ?] records with the history of exploration for petroleum

    in Alaska, where during the last thirty years probably fewer than a single

    score of exploratory wells have been completed. On Naval Reserve No. 4., the

    Navy has drilled some half-dozen exploratory wells. Powerful as it is, the Navy,

    alone, could hardly have done more. Elsewhere in Alaska, outside the Naval

    Reserve, petroleum resources have been closed for a number of years past to

    entry by [ ?] private enterprise. Except for the activity of the Navy, then,

    practically no drilling exploration for petroleum has been carried on in Alaska

    in recent years. Under these conditions it is hardly possible that the petroleum

    resources of Alaska will be thoroughly explored in the near future.

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

            Perhaps the most hopeful prospect for the adequate exploration of the

    potential petroleum resources of the North American Arctic, is the possible

    expansion of the activity now centered in the southern part of western Canada.

    The record of discoveries in this region over recent years suggests very strongly

    that through these discoveries we have entered upon the development of one of the

    major petroleum provinces of North America. There is good reason to anticipate

    that the petroleum-bearing character of the rocks now producing oil in

    Alberta will persist northward clear through to the arctic coast, a distance of

    more than 1,000 miles from Edmonton, the provincial capital. Given access to

    the world markets, through pipelines southward to the Great Lakes and westward

    to Pacific ports, the exploratory activity now largely confined to Alberta,

    may be stimulated to expand gradually northward, until it encompasses the whole

    of the Arctic of the Western Hemisphere.


    1. Fohs, Julius F. “Petroliferous provinces of the U.S.S.R.” Amer.Ass.Petrol.

    Geol. Bull . Vol.32, 1948.

    2. Mackenzie, Alexander. Voyages from Montreal on the River St. Laurence

    through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific

    Oceans: in the Years 1789 and 1793
    . London, Noble, 1801, p.96.

    3. Paige, Sidney, Foran, W.T., and Gilluly, T. A Reconnaissance of the Point

    Barrow Region, Alaska
    . Wash.,D.C., G.P.O., 1925, p. 23. U.S.Geol.

    Surv. Bull . 772.

    4. Pinkow, H.H. “Petroleum occurrences in the arctic regions of the Soviet

    Union,” Zeitschrift für Praktische Geol . 1943.

    5. Pratt, Wallace E. “Distribution of petroleum in the earth’s crust,” Amer.

    Ass.Petrol.Geol. Bull . vol. 28, no.10, pp.1506-10, 1944.

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    EA-I. Pratt: Arctic Petroleum

    6. Reed, John S. “Recent investigation by U.S. Geological Survey of

    petroleum possibilities in Alaska,” Ibid . vol.30, no.9, 1946.

    7. Shanazarov, D.A. “Petroleum problems of Siberia,” Ibid . Feb., 1948, vol.32.

    8. Stefansson, Vilhjalmur. The Friendly Arctic . N.Y., Macmillan, 1921.

    9. ----. The Northward Course of Empire . N.Y., Harcourt, Brace, 1922, p.168.

    10. Sverdrup, H.U., Johnson, M.W., and Fleming, Richard. The Oceans, Their

    Physics, Chemistry, and General Biology
    . N.Y., Prentice-Hall,

    1942, p.13.


    Wallace E. Pratt

    Petroleum Exploration in Arctic Alaska

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    EA-I. (W. G. Greenman)




    Fig. 1 Map of Alaska Showing Naval Petroleum Reserve #4 13

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    EA-I. (W. G. Greenman)



            This article outlines a plan of petroleum exploration in the Arctic

    and indicates the many problems of operation which the Arctic imposes on

    an otherwise normal oil exploration. The methods by which these problems

    have been solved will be found described elsewhere in the Encyclopedia


            Although the arctic coastal plain of Alaska was recognized by the

    United States Geological Survey as a prospective oil-producing territory as

    early as 1904, it was not given serious consideration until 1922, when certain

    companies in the petroleum industry sent parties to Point Barrow to stake oil

    prospecting claims. These claims were not validated, however, and the area

    now known as Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 was carved out of this coastal

    plain by President Harding, in 1923, through an e E xecutive o O rder (see Fig. 1).

    During the next three years, United States Geological Survey field parties,

    with funds provided by the United States Navy, accomplished considerable

    geological reconnaissance work in the area, but the short working seasons,

    lack of modern methods of communications and transportation, indifferent logistic

    support, and lack of interest because of the general favorable petroleum

    situation in the United States brought the work to an end.

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    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

            At the beginning of the “Campaign in the Pacific” phase of World War II,

    there arose grave doubts in the minds of responsible government officials

    concerning the availability of sufficient petroleum products to maintain the

    planned tempo of operations in the Pacific Theater. This situation was par–

    ticularly aggravated on the west coast where a falling supply from California

    fields was causing a serious oil shortage. This shortage, together with

    relatively difficult transportation facilities across the mountains from the

    East, revived the Navy’s interest in the petroleum possibilities of Naval

    Petroleum Reserve No. 4 as a source of oil to supplement the decreasing

    supply from the strategically located west coast fields. Funds were again

    made available by the Navy to resume the work of exploration. The project

    started with a geological reconnaissance party being flown into the Reserve

    in the spring of 1944, and expanded until now it consists of a full-scale

    exploration organization.

            The plan of exploration follows the usual pattern of foreign explora–

    tion by the petroleum industry, namely: reconnaissance by air-borne magneto–

    meter; aerial photography for geographical mapping and geological studies;

    geological surface mapping; subsurface reconnaissance by gravimeter, seismo–

    graph, and core drilling; and finally, the drilling of test wells on carefully

    selected locations. In addition, a preliminary pipeline survey was planned

    to determine the volume of reserve and productive capacity which must be found

    to support economically the installation of expensive transportation facilities

    required to deliver the oil to west coast refineries by way of ice-free ports

    in southwestern Alaska.

    003      |      Vol_IIB-0320                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

            Throughout World War II, the work of exploration was undertaken by a

    United States Navy Seabee detachment, which pioneered the way to the solu–

    tion of most of the problems imposed by the Arctic. The officers and men

    of this organization were carefully chosen for their specialized knowledge

    or petroleum exploration and production, as well as for their experience in

    cold weather amphibious operations. At the close of the war, the Seabee

    unit was disbanded and the Navy Department employed commercial contractors

    experienced in foreign oil exploration, arctic construction, and transportation.

    These contractors are continuing the work with all the skill and experience

    which private enterprise has developed in the exploration for oil both at

    home and abroad.

            The normal problems to be expected in an explorations of the magnitude

    of this undertaking will be increased manyfold by handicaps imposed by nature

    in the Far North, and the lack of satisfactory patterns and precedents which

    might be used as guides in meeting them. This makes it necessary to proceed

    slowly and with caution until the ingenuity and perseverance of those in

    charge of the operations obtain satisfactory solutions.

            The first and most important requirement in getting the exploration

    under way is accurate charts of the arctic coast line and maps of the interior

    adjacent thereto. The first water-borne supply expedition to Point Barrow,

    in the summer of 1944, reached its destination with virtually no charts of

    the coastal area, and the first overland party to work in the Reserve that

    year was provided with maps which were in error many miles. The United States

    Coast and Geodetic Survey has been actively engaged since the summer of 1945

    in preparing accurate charts of the arctic coast line from Barrow to the east

    and southwest. Aerial photography of the interior of arctic Alaska, started

    004      |      Vol_IIB-0321                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

    started by the United States Army Air Force in 1943, and since continued by

    the U.S. Navy, has provided the U.S. Geological Survey with the necessary

    photographic information by which that agency is now able to provide reasonably

    accurate topographical maps of arctic Alaska.

            In planning the availability of supplies for the various phases of the

    exploration, heavy equipment and bulk stores had to be carried by ship because

    the cost of air transportation, the only other means of supply, was prohibitive.

    It was found that the one accessible landing area in the Reserve was on the

    beach at Point Barrow, the northernmost tip of Alaska, and that this beach

    was clear of ice for only a very short period in summer. Furthermore, the

    polar ice pack during the short period when the beach is clear lies offshore

    only a few miles, and a shift in wind may drive the ice back and endanger

    the ships lying offshore. Because of this situation, the landing of material

    at Barrow is accomplished each year by the United States Pacific Fleet as an

    amphibious training mission, and is planned and carried out in the same manner as

    were landing operations in the Pacific during the war. Cargo must be well

    packaged and palletized, where possible, in order to withstand the rough

    handling of unloading, and to facilitate its movement to warehouses and

    out-of-the-way areas. The procedure adopted by the Navy as a result of war

    experience for handling cargo on an amphibious operation has proved excellent.

    Due to conditions of terrain, it is impossible to move this equipment and supplies

    to operating areas in the interior until the coastal plain freezes solid in

    midwinter. Thus, planning and procurement of supplies and materials for any

    summer operation of the exploration must start a year and a half ahead of the

    actual beginning of field work.

    005      |      Vol_IIB-0322                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

            The ground surface of the arctic plain is covered with arctic tundra

    varying in thickness from one to eighteen inches. Beneath this cover the

    subsoil is permanently frozen to a depth of several hundred feet. The frozen

    material consists of silt, vegetable matter, conglomerate, and moisture in

    the form of ice lenses. During the winter months, the tundra is frozen solid

    and will support the weight of any vehicle or structure, but in summer the

    exposed surface thaws to form swamps and marshes which, with the numerous

    lake and rivers, present a virtually impassable barrier to any kind of overland

    traffic. Below this, the permanently frozen ground, called “permafrost,”

    presents many critical problems covering all phases of the exploration from

    construction to transportation.

            Construction methods in the Arctic follow the general basic pattern used

    elsewhere but the complications usually encountered in ordinary climates are

    intensified because of the extreme cold and permanently frozen ground. The

    principal difficulties encountered are proper site locations, adequate

    foundations, planning for and movement of material, effective insulation of

    buildings, and obtaining men who have the stamina to work under unexpected

    difficulties and tribulations.

            Land transportation problems are many and difficult because of the wide

    variation in temperatures and changing ground conditions of the coastal

    plain from ice to swamp to ice with the seasons. All motorize equipment,

    with the exception of the caterpillar tractor, have to be amphibious in

    design because of the numerous lakes and rivers that cannot be avoided. All

    motorized equipment must be track-driven to provide traction and for the

    maximum distribution of weight over the marshy ground; and all must be

    006      |      Vol_IIB-0323                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

    winterized for protection of engines and operating personnel against the

    extreme cold of winter. There are no ready guides for the solution of this

    problem and many experiments may be discarded before satisfactory results

    may be expected. Improper fuels and lubricants for arctic use may cause

    many failures and the machinery itself may required some alterations before

    satisfactory operations are assured. In one instance the power unit of the

    LVT (Landing Vehicle, Track), the overland trucking vehicle of the exploration,

    had to be changed from gasoline to diesel to eliminate fire hazards on the

    trail, standardize equipment, and minimize the possibility of monoxide poisoning.

            Combinations of terrain, weather, and the absence of landmarks, combined

    with poor visibility and discernibility, particularly in winter, make necessary

    some form of navigational aids in order to travel from one point to another.

    At these high latitudes, a compass is either useless in the regions immediately

    surrounding the magnetic pole or very erratic due to the weak horizontal com–

    ponent of the earth’s magnetic field. For this reason, vehicular compasses

    are a particular problem. The exploration has adopted the practical solution

    of marking the sled-train routes by flags dropped from the air and by sending

    a scout ahead in a land vehicle to pick up the trail. To meet future needs,

    the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, and Civil Engineer Corps, U.S. Navy,

    are studying the use of gyrocompasses and other navigational equipment,

    including other electronic devices that may be adopted for use in land


            In order properly to organize tractor trains for movement of heavy

    equipment in the subzero darkness and blizzards of midwinter, it is necessary to

    experiment with sleds and sled-mounted wanigans until sled trains may be moved

    without mishap or be repaired en route, and so that operating personnel may

    007      |      Vol_IIB-0324                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

    be properly housed and fed on the trail. These sled trains are hauled by

    heavy D-8 caterpillar tractors and movements are conducted without difficulty

    over the frozen arctic plain in midwinter for hundreds of miles, hauling

    thousands of tons of equipment that must be cached in the winter months in

    preparation for the coming summer’s work.

            Because of the almost impassable conditions of the arctic plain in

    summer, and for quick movement in both winter and summer, the airplane

    is indispensable in support of all arctic field operations and for the trans–

    port of urgent material and personnel from populated areas. The airplane does

    not require prepared roads. Its ability to operate in subzero weather is

    established. It may land on skis, floats, or wheels on temporary runways

    without difficulty, and may draw an ample fuel supply from established bases

    to permit it to carry out its mission without interme i diate support.

            The necessity of relying almost entirely on the airplane for movements

    of personnel, materials, and supplies, which cannot be anticipated in support

    of interior operations, has made necessary the building of a landing field

    at the main base camp at Point Barrow and another at the secondary base camp

    at Umiat on the southeast edge of the Reserve. These fields are capable of

    receiving two- and four-engine cargo planes, bringing in personnel and material

    from the outside, and they furnish support bases for the small planes that

    maintain contact with the geological and geophysical field parties and the

    drilling camps. In winter, landing strips are prepared for the larger planes

    on the frozen tundra and lakes in the vicinity of field activities, permitting

    fast movement of needed heavier and bulkier materials during that season of

    the year. The smaller planes can land almost anywhere on the coastal plain

    008      |      Vol_IIB-0325                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

    at any time of the year, except during a short period in the spring when the

    ice is breaking up, and again in the fall when ice is forming.

            Notwithstanding the thought that has been given to logistic support of

    field operations, either by overland transport or by air, there are two periods

    of the year when logistic support fails almost completely. One is a short

    period in the spring when the ice is breaking up on the numerous lakes that

    dot the area, and the other is in the fall when the ice is forming and before

    the ground is thoroughly frozen. During these periods, it is dangerous for

    small planes to land. Furthermore, track-driven vehicles cannot find the

    traction to lift them from the surface of lakes with steep banks. The Bureau

    of Ships of the Navy Department is now designing track - driven vehicles for

    military use that will negotiate surfaces of varying densities and viscosities,

    ranging from hard soils to salt and fresh water and snow and ice. The contours

    of the surfaces to be traversed range from zero slope to forty-five degrees,

    negative, positive, fore, aft, and lateral.

            The wide variation in climatic conditions in the Reserve makes a study

    of climatic factors of first importance in connection with field operations.

    The principal factors; are: duration of daylight at various times of the year;

    variation in temperature, wind, precipitation, ceiling, and visibility; and

    thickness of ice. These factors all have to be considered in the planning

    and carrying out of any field operation.

            Because of the isolation of camps and field parties from the main camp at

    Barrow, reliable voice radio communications are essential for continuous

    contact. The Navy Department supplies the necessary equipment and conducts

    essential experiments for improving this vital link. Contract personnel

    operate and maintain the numerous stations. In this connection magnetic

    009      |      Vol_IIB-0326                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

    influences have an adverse effect on radio wave propagation to the point

    where areas are completely blanked out for days. This phenomenon is being

    studied by the Army Signal Corps and the Bureau of Standards.

            At the beginning of the exploration, it was evident that there was no

    adequate clothing in the stocks of the military services to meet the rigorous

    conditions imposed on men employed out of doors the year round in the Arctic.

    Consequently, those in charge of the exploration were forced to develop gar–

    ments to protect adequately the personnel, and at the same time permit

    freedom of movement under working conditions. The pattern of clothing thus

    developed is now being used by the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts to develop

    suitable clothing for naval personnel operating in the Far North.

            Potable water is no problem anywhere in the area, as the numerous lakes

    and rivers all contain fresh water. Even during the coldest period of the

    winter, some lakes are usually available which are not frozen to the bottom.

    In the event lakes are completely frozen in the vicinity of operations, ice

    or snow may always be melted.

            Mosquitoes and other biting insects in swarms suddenly emerge in the

    arctic plain of the Reserve immediately following the spring thaw, and they

    persist until the first freeze in the fall. These insects are not known to

    be conveyers of disease, but they are extremely annoying because of their

    sting and the accompanying skin irritation. Since the insect season coincides

    with the period of greatest human activity in the field, work is handicapped

    by the presence of these insect pests. Therefore, field studies leading to

    an insect control program were instituted, in 1946, by the Bureau of Medicine

    and Surgery of the Navy Department, which continued until the summer of 1949,

    when the Department of Agriculture took over the project. The program so far

    010      |      Vol_IIB-0327                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

    has been effective in isolating selected areas from insects, but there is

    still much to be accomplished. (See “Arctic Insect Pests and Their Control”.)

            Personnel adaptability to arctic employment is discussed in detail

    elsewhere in the Encyclopedia . However, any normal healthy male may become

    accustomed to arctic conditions, but it must be recognized that living in

    an area of extreme cold with much darkness and no direct sunlight for long

    periods, few amusements, minimum comforts, and absence of family ties,

    require personal adjustment in any individual. Therefore, all personnel

    selected for arctic work should be sound and healthy and free from respiratory

    diseases. Age, within reasonable limits, is not a deterrent. Diversions

    in the form of motion pictures, games, athletic events, and reasonably

    frequent leave periods are essential.

            One of the greatest aids to morale in the Arctic is comfortable housing

    and well-prepared food. Both of these items have been given utmost attention

    by the Navy and its contractors, and it is believed that the high morale

    usually found throughout the personnel employed by the exploration is due

    to the thoughtful planning that has been given these important factors.

            The Eskimo has made for himself an important place in the exploration

    and he is undoubtedly a potential source of manpower for future operations

    is northern areas. He has been found to be intelligent, active, and willing

    and he as a natural mechanical ability which, by education and training,

    may be expanded to fill most any type of position requiring mechanical

    knowledge, such as truck driving, tractor operations, engine overhaul,

    carpentry, and radio operations. The women are apt seamstresses, particularly

    with fur and leather.

    011      |      Vol_IIB-0328                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

            However, before full use can be made of this source of labor, the

    health and living conditions of the Eskimo must be improved. Due to many

    years of improper diet and most unsanitary living conditions, a large per–

    centage are infected with tuberculosis, either active or dormant. The

    Bureau of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior is taking active

    interest in improving these conditions, and the money available to the

    Eskimos through employment by the Navy’s oil exploration is also a great

    source of help.

            Other government agencies have found the Navy’s base camp at Point

    Barrow a satisfactory location for arctic research pursuits in many fields

    of science. Among these are:

            (1) The Office of Naval Research at its Arctic Research Laboratory

    which sponsors:

            (a) University contracts covering research in basic science

    particularly in biology, geology, and geophysics.

            (b) Seismi s c research by the Naval Ordnance Laboratory.

            (c) Coordinated permafrost studies by the Nav a y Department

    (Bureau of Yards and Docks) and the Department of the Interior (U.S.

    Geological Survey).

            (d) O d c eanographic program by the Navy Department (Hydrographic

    Office and Naval Electronics Laboratory), the Woods Hole Biological

    Laboratory, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University

    of California.

            (2) Magnetic Observatory sponsored and operated by the U.S. Coast and

    Geodetic Survey.

            (3) Arctic Test Station sponsored and operated by the Navy Department

    (Bureau of Yards and Docks).

    012      |      Vol_IIB-0329                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Greenman: Petroleum Exploration

            (4) Aerological studies sponsored and operated by the Navy Department

    (Bureau of Aeronautics).

            (5) Tests of arctic clothing and material sponsored and operated by

    the Navy Department (Bureau of Supplies and Accounts).

            (6) Radio propagation sponsored by the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army

    and operated jointly by the Signal Corps and the Bureau of Standards.

            (7)Track-driven vehicle testing sponsored by the Navy Department

    (Bureau of Ships).

            (8) Insect control sponsored by the Department of Agriculture.


    William G. Greenman,

    Commodore, USN

    013      |      Vol_IIB-0330                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 1

    Arctic Alaska Petroleum Exploration and Drilling Operation

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0331                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (Bart W. Gillespie and Ralph Coleman)




    Introduction 1
    Petroleum Exploration 6
    Drilling 9

    001      |      Vol_IIB-0332                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (Bart W. Gillespie and J. Ralph Coleman)





            The discussions relating to problems of petroleum exploration in the

    Arctic must necessarily be confined to the experience of the authors. They

    will be restricted, therefore, to the exploratory work that has been carried

    on in arctic Alaska under the direction of the Director of United States

    Naval Petroleum Reserves and will specifically cover the drilling of a

    limited number of wells ranging in character from shallow core tests to

    depths in excess of 6,000 feet.

            The remarks included in this discussion are the result of the observa–

    tions of a number of geologists, petroleum engineers, mining, and civil

    engineers who are responsible for the carrying out of the exploratory work

    in Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 (NPR-4), Alaska.

    002      |      Vol_IIB-0333                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

            It is believed that anyone interested in studying exploratory problems

    under these conditions would do well to balance these observations against

    the experience of companies operating in northern Canada. Reference is

    made to such operations as the Norman Wells exploratory program carried on

    by the Imperial Oil of Canada and, perhaps, to a lesser extent, cold weather

    operations in the Turner Valley and Edmonton areas might add many points of

    great value to the complete study of subzero drilling operations.

            General . The preliminary preparations for the setting up of a petroleum

    exploration program for operations in arctic Alaska include within them not

    only a knowledge of arctic conditions but also, strange as it may sound, an

    understanding of transportation difficulties peculiar to tropical exploration.

    t T his is understandable when the statement is made that the arctic tundra

    thaws in the summer to as much as three feet, thus resulting in a sea of mud

    as difficult to traverse as is the jungle.

    003      |      Vol_IIB-0334                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

            Selection of Personnel. It is difficult to use the yardstick of pre–

    vious environment as a basis for the selection of key personnel for arctic

    work, since it has been proved in arctic work that men from Florida can

    compete on an even basis with men who have spent a lifetime in the North.

    The ability to adapt oneself to the rigors of the Arctic is by no means

    restricted to a limited few, but may be said to be a trait of most well–

    balanced human beings. That the personnel now employed in work for the

    Navy in the Arctic happens to be rich in Alaskans indicates primarily a

    greater knowledge of subzero working conditions by Alaskans than that

    possessed by the average person from more moderate climates. The Alaskan

    is not necessarily any better equipped, mentally, to meet arctic conditions

    than are men from the Outside. (This term is common to Alaska meaning “men

    from the United States or from outside of Alaska.”) The inherent tempera–

    men of the man selected to work in the Arctic is of particular importance.

    He must be possessed of a maturity, reflected by the ability to withstand

    the unusual conditions of climate. Ability to adjust himself to close

    quarters, little privacy, and close contact with his fellow workers is

    most important.

            The most important considerations necessary to provide healthful

    working conditions are good food, comfortable quarters, and as much

    recreation of a sedentary nature as can be provided. Periodic trips to

    some nearby populated center should be encouraged, particularly when an

    individual shows evidence of strain.

    004      |      Vol_IIB-0335                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

            The age of workers is perhaps not as important a consideration as in

    other parts of the world. If any differentiation should be made, it might

    be against youth rather than in favor of it, providing the older man is

    physically able to carry on his duties. Older men usually have become more

    stable and have learned to deprive themselves of the many ordinary con–

    veniences usually associated with living in more settled and heavier popu–

    lated regions.

            Support of a base camp situated on the arctic coast of Alaska is

    dependent upon two forms of transportation ; : water and air. Water-borne

    support, though of great importance in the movement of equipment and

    materials of great weight and bulk, may be limited to approximately six

    weeks of ice-free water which usually embrace the months of August and

    September. In unusual years, ships have failed to reach remote locations

    on the arctic coast during an entire summer. In other instances, the coasts

    of the Arctic Sea have remained open as late as October.

            Year around support of any operation of size is best accomplished by

    air, usually having a main base of departure located in the interior of

    Alaska, preferably in Fairbanks, which is the nearest city to the Alaska

    arctic coast and conveniently located at a railhead. Thus, emergency ship–

    ments from the United States can be made by air to Fairbanks or may be made

    by ship to an Alaskan port, thence by rail to Fairbanks, and from Fairbanks

    via air to the arctic coast base. Therefore, when the material is available

    for immediate delivery from any city in the United States to the carrier at

    Seattle, it can be delivered to the Arctic in the remarkably short period of

    two days. The high cost of air transportation makes it of considerable

    005      |      Vol_IIB-0336                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman . : Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    importance to plan procurement with unusual care. The degree of care is

    directly dependent on the completeness of the plan of operations covering

    any year’s program.

            Detailed plans must be complete by December of one year for procure–

    ment the following year. Purchasing should be started in January in order

    to permit ships’ loading and departure late in July. Cargo must be extra

    well packaged to withstand rough treatment during beach unloading. The

    accepted procedure for handling cargo established by the U.S. Armed Forces

    has proved excellent.

            Beach unloading, if well planned and supported on the beach, both by

    adequate personnel and unloading equipment, is satisfactory. Records indi–

    cate that as much as 4,500 tons of cargo have been beached in one 24-hour

    day. For large vessels, a reasonable rate for use in estimating discharge

    of cargo is fifteen short tons per hatch per hour under favorable weather


            Warehousing, refrigeration, and storage facilities are indispensable

    in any major operation in the Arctic. Food of a perishable nature, subject

    to loss either from low or high temperatures, must be protected. Materials

    subject to damage due to moisture must be placed under shelter with little

    delay for protection from summer rains and early snowfalls. Outside storage

    of a great bulk of cargo is simple, yet it must be so planned that it can

    be found when needed after being covered by snow. Such a storage area can

    be satisfactorily arranged by setting up long posts with numbered flags on

    each post to identify the materials surrounding the post. Adequate passage -

    ways must be provided for heavy equipment to permit removal of snow and

    loading of sleds during midwinter.

    006      |      Vol_IIB-0337                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman . : Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

            Transportation of cargo from the base or central camp to outlying camps

    can best be accomplished during the winter by freighting materials over ice

    and snow. Year-round support is again an air problem where small planes

    operating on floats, skis, or wheels must be used, depending upon the terrain

    and the season of the year.

            In highly mechanized operations such as are now under way in arctic

    Alaska, the D-8 tractor is the prime mover used to the best advantage. It

    is not unusual for a D-8 to haul sixty net tons across the ice. Sleighs

    such as the Michler No.9 (modified), pipe runner sleds, and “go-devils” are

    usually used as carriers. Personnel handling these freighting trains are

    housed and messed in wanigans (miniature boxcars mounted on sleds). For a

    detailed discussion of winter freighting, see “Transportation Over l L and and




            The final selection of a site on which to drill a well for oil is

    arrived at only after exhaustive geological and geophysical studies of the

    area in question. It is not enough that a region be rich in oil seepages

    and possessed of surface indications of structures apparently satisfactory

    for the accumulation of oil. There are still the important problems of

    determining formation characteristics, geological ages, and establishing

    as much correlative data as is available for comparison with known pro–

    ducing fields in other parts of the world.

            The arctic region of Alaska, north of the Brooks Range, may be divided

    into two parts. The southern, starting from the mountain range and extending

    to approximately 69° 45′ N. latitude, consists of sufficient surface relief

    in the shape of low hills and stream-formed sanyons to lend assistance to

    007      |      Vol_IIB-0338                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    the visual part of exploration carried out by trained geologists. The

    northern part of this region starts about where sharp topographic features

    have blended into low relief hills. This area has few, if any, surface

    outcrops of the underlying formations which must be seen by the geologist

    if he is to accomplish any work of significance.

            The study of areas where there are no surface indications of structure

    is the work of the geophysicist. With local variations affecting to some

    extent the sequence, the magnetometer, the gravimeter, and the seismograph

    are usually used in the order named. The magnetometer and the gravimeter are

    associated with preliminary subsurface investigations while the seismograph

    is associated with more detailed work and usually in the determining study

    when a drill site is selected.

            It is accepted as sound practice to use the seismograph as a final

    check even in cases where surface evidence collected by geologists appears

    to be perfect for a drill site, since a structure with all normal surface

    indications is, in many instances, most abnormal underneath. In some regions,

    further checks are made on the subsurface geology by drilling a number of

    shallow holes for the purpose of determining the geology of an area in

    question. On less frequent occasions, a deep hole is drilled with little

    or no hope of obtaining production, but entirely for determination of

    structure and geological sequences otherwise not recognizable.

            Unusual adaptations of the use of geophysical methods are the “flying

    magnetometer” and the “flying gravimeter” - modifications of the instruments

    used for surface work, less refined, but capable of covering vast areas in

    008      |      Vol_IIB-0339                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    a short time. These instruments are transported by small planes over

    large areas to pick up major features which later require more detailed

    work by one or more of the ground instruments. Both of these instruments

    were used with some success in the preliminary exploratory work of the

    arctic coast.

            The S s eismograph , used most extensively in the Arctic, requires more

    detailed explanation. The setting up of a complete party to operate it

    from early March until the end of August requires the construction of a

    mobile unit capable of covering several hundred miles of ice, snow, frozen

    tundra, and, during summer months, a sea of mud as difficult to traverse as

    that encountered in tropical regions.

            The tractor is the back v b one of the party; track - and sled-carried

    equipment are indispensable, for no wheeled vehicle has thus far been

    designed which operates successfully under arctic conditions. Four D-8

    Caterpillar tractors, ten “weasels” (M29C army cargo carriers), and special

    wanigans carrying shops, instruments, utilities, galleys, mess hall, office,

    and sleeping quarters compose the train. Easch party is completely self-

    supporting except for periodic resupply and mail delivery by small “bush”


            The rate at which seismograph work can be accomplished is better than

    that realized in some tropical countries and comparable with the work done

    in some of the more severe regions of the United States. The high cost of

    initial transportation and camp equipment and high wage rates result in a

    fairly high production cost, even with the best of progress. A total of

    25 men is required for one seismograph party, including the necessary personnel

    for camp support. This is almost twice the number of men required in

    populated areas where outside support is available.

    009      |      Vol_IIB-0340                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exporation and Drilling



            The basis for successful drilling operations under climatic conditions

    that may vary from 80°F. to 65°F. is detailed planning, which is fundamentally minus sign

    one of “air conditioning,” where the objective sought is that of raising

    rather than lowering temperatures around all drilling equipment and materials

    that will not function properly at extremely low temperatures.

            Such a condition is attained by properly enclosing the entire derrick

    and drilling equipment and providing adequate heat, first, by utilizing the

    waste heat of working engines, and second, at low temparatures, using addi–

    tional heating units to make up for the greater heat required.

            Experience has proved that a canvas-covered derrick with an engine

    house constructed of plywood or material of equal insulating value may be

    heated to temperatures of approximately 50° to 60°F. with very little more

    than engine heat, when the outside air temperatures are as low as −20°F.

    Additional heat, usually supplied by boilers, is required when temperatures

    drop below −20°F. Winds will, of course, have a direct bearing on the use

    of additional heat, and when the wind velocity reache d s 30 to 50 miles per

    hour, the boilers may have to be utilized when outside air temperatures are

    only 0°F.

            The lowest temperatures recorded inside an insulated drilling rig would

    normally be under the rig floor where blowout preventers and master valves

    are situated. Steam lines must be so placed that freezing of these important

    pieces of equipment is prevented. The warmest point in the derrick is at the

    top under the crown, and experiments are being conducted with a blower-type

    system to circulate this warm air down to a point underneath the derrick


    010      |      Vol_IIB-0341                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

            Once the air conditioning of the rig has been accomplished, the problem

    of well drilling in arctic Alaska summer down to those ordinarily associated

    with similar drilling problems encountered under more favorable climatic

    conditions - exclusive of the effect of permafrost on well drilling.

            Effects of Permafrost on Well Drilling . Permanently frozen ground is

    peculiar to formations lying inside and several hundred miles south of the

    Arctic Circle. This zone may vary from a few feet to more than 1,000 feet

    in thickness. Temperatures remain constantly below 32°F. and ordinarily

    vary from 16° to 31°F. (See articles on Permafrost.)

            The hazards of drilling increase directly with the amount of unconsolidated

    formations present and are most serious where a considerable amount of water

    (usually frozen at shallow depths) is present within the formations. Dry frost

    existing in fine, unconsolidated sands can also be difficult to drill through.

            Although drilling procedures under arctic conditions are comparable

    with those encountered under more favorable conditions, the drilling of small hyphen -

    diameter holes (3 7/8 to 6 1/8 in.) through frozen tundra, muck, and ice is

    not free of its own peculiarities. Holes tend to freeze back on occasions

    at a rapid rate and often drill pipe is returned to the surface only after

    drilling upward through the frozen drilling muds. Large - diameter holes in

    which greater volumes of mud are pumped do not offer such problems, thus

    making deep well drilling as easy as in other fields, providing rig founda–

    tions, casing, and cementing problems are properly approached. Each of these

    important problems will be discussed later.

            It may be assumed with reasonable certainty that the cost to rig up

    properly for drilling in the Arctic will be several times the cost of pre–

    paring a rig in more favorable climates. To neglect rigging up properly is

    011      |      Vol_IIB-0342                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum and Drilling

    to invite a series of setbacks, which may range from simple time losses,

    such as thawing of frozen pipelines, to major failures of drilling equip–

    ment or blowout assemblies at a critical moment. The latter types of

    failures are serious and may result in the loss of a long string of casing

    or drill pipe, or even of a hole, due to preventable blowout.

            Rigging up for drilling wells in the Arctic, therefore, is most

    effective when each step is taken only after carefully analyzing conditions

    both of freezing and thaw, critical periods during which practically any–

    thing may happen to a drilling rig. Lines, valves, and manifolds should be

    assembled with the purpose of permitting draining of all fluids in cases of

    emergency or normal shutdowns.

            Where there is permissible latitude in selecting drill sites, the

    selection should be made as near as possible to terrain that will permit the

    construction of at least a small landing field. To neglect the importance

    of a landing field may mean complete isolation of a drilling rig insofar as

    movement of heavy parts of machinery is concerned. A source of water is

    indispensable. Streams, unless very deep, are usually frozen for several

    months of the year. Lakes must be no less than nine feet in depth to assure

    year-round water supply. To neglect winter water supply will mean resorting

    to hauling water in wanigans for uneconomical distances, since unprotected

    pipelines laid for any distance will freeze and become useless for several

    months of the year.

            Camp Support. The type of structure for crews’ quarters, galley, and

    warehousing will depend upon the length of time it is estimated that drilling

    will be carried on at any particular rig site. For a camp laid out to

    support a deep well drilling operation, which may cover a period from 18 to

    012      |      Vol_IIB-0343                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    to 24 months, prefabricated 20- by 56-ft. arch rib huts proved satisfactory.

    For medium depth wells the portable Jamesway Hut, designed for plane trans–

    portation in 16- by 16-ft. sections has proved an excellent structure. It

    is light in weight and well insulated with double canvas an spun-glass

    filler. Thus hut has been found satisfactory even in extremely low tempera–

    tures. When erected on skids, these huts may be transported from one site

    to another without disassembling. Buildings are spaced at least 50 ft.

    apart and approximately 150 ft. away from the drilling rig for security

    against fire. The position of the camp is carefully selected to prevent

    undue snow drift at critical points. Fuel and unperishable stocks are dis–

    persed for similar reasons. They are placed as near as possible to points

    where they will be used. Their positions are carefully marked for identifi–

    cation when snowdrafts may cover all outside storage.

            A warehouse is indispensable for any drilling operation of six months

    or longer. A stock of replacement parts and materials must be carefully

    selected to cover those items which experience has proved to be most

    vulnerable in a program of this sort. Drilling in the Arctic requires a

    stock of spare parts and materials varying directly with the availability

    of satisfactory year-round runways near the drilling site. Where small bush

    planes are the only means of support, it is imperative that sufficient extra

    heavy and bulky equipment and spare parts be moved to the location at the

    time the basic rig is moved in. Tractors, cranes, and tracked cargo

    carriers such as the M29C (“weasel”) are indispensable vehicles for support–

    ing such camp operations.

            Cementing units, electric well-logging equipment, mud laboratories, and

    many other large single units are sled-mounted to permit moving from location

    013      |      Vol_IIB-0344                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    to location. This unitizing has progressed to a point where plans are now

    being made to mount boilers, auxiliary pumps. and pump manifolds in a

    similar manner.

            The transportation of drilling equipment and fuel in drums, plus all

    the supporting materials, is a huge undertaking, varying from 400 tons for

    shallow holes to as high as 3,000 tons for extremely deep holes. The

    problems presented are many and complex (see “Transportation Over Land and

    Ice”). The transportation facilities ordinarily left at a drilling location

    after the winter freighting has been completed normally consist of one D-8

    Caterpillar tractor, one D-6 Caterpillar tractor-crane, and two M29C “weasels.”

    The tractors are used in hauling fuel and water and in moving material, while

    the “weasels” are used in transporting personnel and material two to and from

    bush planes and for such work as would be done with a “pickup” truck over

    more favorable terrain.

            Personnel, once adapted to arctic drilling conditions, find working long

    hours preferable to normal 8-hour days with too much spare time after working

    hours. Since exploratory work is preliminary work with the objective yet to

    be reached, it is difficult to justify any but the simplest of recreational

    facilities. Movies are important. Cards, reading, and other simple indoor

    forms of relaxation are indulged in. During the summer season, fishing and

    hunting are occasionally sources of recreation. However, in general, the

    recreational facilities provided in drilling camps are very limited.

    Normally a drilling camp is equipped with a 16- by 48-ft. combination f g alley

    and mess hall which also serves for recreation purposes. Seven 16- by 16-ft.

    sleeping huts, adequate to accommodate comfortably 28 men, and in addition a

    utility shower and washroom, a 20- by 48-ft. warehouse and office, the rig

    house, and the special equipment wanigans complete the camp facilities.

    014      |      Vol_IIB-0345                                                                                                                  
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            Cable Tool Drilling. Small types of percussion drilling, known as

    churn drills, have been used for many years in Alaska, particularly in

    placer-mining sampling. The churn drill has drilled to relatively shallow

    depths and usually during seasons of the year when the temperatures have

    been moderate. The experience gained from such drilling, which is of value

    to deep well cable tool drilling, is that obtained by drilling through the

    permafrost. It has contributed solutions to the problems of driving casing

    through frozen soil and formations and, therefore, should be mentioned at

    this point.

            In general, the greater safety provided by the modern rotary drilling

    rig against possible gas blowout, and the great number of supporting instru–

    ments available for use with the rotary rig, such as core barrels, gas

    detectors, rate-of-penetration and electric logging equipment, limit the use

    of cable tool drills to locations of extreme isolation where there is but a

    limited supply of water and where transportation is unusually hazardous and

    costly. Under such circumstances the cable tool drill can be used as

    effectively in the Arctic as in other fields.

            Rig Foundations. A number of different rig foundations have been tried,

    including timber matting, conventional concrete foundations, sills used with

    skid-type substructures, and piling foundations. The first three types are

    commonly used in the oil fields in temperate climates and have been found

    satisfactory for arctic use only if placed on relatively competent subsoil,

    such as may be found in river terraces and gravel bars or on the beaches

    along the coast. However, the majority of the drilling locations in arctic

    Alaska require the erection of a derrick on soil which, when thawed, is very

    incompetent. This soil contains as much as 70 per cent moisture and often

    015      |      Vol_IIB-0346                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    contains ice lenses several feet thick a few feet below the ground level.

    The soil is covered by a mat of mosslike grass, which affords a very good

    insulation if undisturbed. A piling foundation for the derrick is the only

    type that has been found suitable when drilling wells to any considerable

    depth in this type of soil. For shallow holes, which are drilled within

    the permanently frozen ground (permafrost zone), or for those which do not

    extend very far below the permafrost zone, it is possible to keep the mud

    temperatures low enough to prevent thawing of the soil upon which the

    foundation is located. For these wells, the expense of driving piling is

    not warranted.

            For deeper test wells where a competent subsoil is not present, it has

    been found necessary to use a piling foundation under the derrick, drilling

    engines, mud pumps, pits, water tanks, boilers, and pipe racks. Rigging-up

    operations are started soon after the drilling material is on location and

    at least two months before the expected spudding-in date for the well. This

    is necessary because the pilings are placed by thawing a hole in the ground

    with a steam point and then driving the pile into the thawed muck. Two or

    three weeks’ time is desirable to allow the piling to freeze back before

    the derrick is erected.

            The depth to which the pilings are placed and the number of pilings are

    determined by several factors:

            ( 1 1 ) . Amount of thaw expected due to summer temperatures (60° to 80°F.),

    or to heat transmitted from the rig engines, mud pits, circulating drilling

    mud, heating boilers, etc.

            ( 2 2 ) The depth of the hole to be drilled and the resulting drill pipe

    and casing loads to be handled.

    016      |      Vol_IIB-0347                                                                                                                  
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            ( 3 3 ) The characteristics of the subsoil and the provisions made to

    prevent thawing of the area around the rig foundation. Ordinarily it is

    assumed that piling driven in muck will take no load if the muck thaws.

    Therefore, the piling must be placed well below the expected thaw depth.

    However, in locations where a semicompetent formation is present and ice

    lenses are absent, the soil can be assumed to take a load even when thawed.

            ( 4 4 ) It is considered good practice to place the piling at a depth in

    the ground equal to three times the expected thaw depth. This is done to

    prevent heaving of the piling due to thawing and refreezing in the active

    zone above the permafrost layer. The active zone is normally not deeper

    than 2 or 3 ft. Therefore, piling for pipe racks, catwalk, etc., need not

    be driven deeper than 6 to 9 ft. in the ground. This applies to foundations

    located outside the rig house. Inside the rig house, the thawing may be

    deeper, but it can be safely assumed that, while drilling operations are in

    progress, the ground once thawed will not freeze back, for the rig house is

    kept continuously heated.

            Based on the above facts and, to some extent, assumptions, since each

    new location may present a new problem, piling depths in permafrost have been

    determined and proved satisfactory for drilling a well to 7,000 ft. The

    following tabulation of depths for piling driven in surface formations known

    to be high in water content, ice lenses, and permafrost are worthy of


            ( 1 1 ) . Piles under derrick substructures were driven 15 to 18 ft. The

    piling under the derrick corners and under the rotary support were driven

    approximately 18 ft. The maximum thawing occurs near the well bore, due to

    steam coils around the blowout preventers, and the circulation of warm drilling

    and return mud (temperature 85°F.) at completion of the well.

    017      |      Vol_IIB-0348                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

            ( 2 2 ). Piles under drilling engines and pumps were driven 8 to 10 ft.

            ( 3 3 ). No piling was placed under pits, boiler, or water tanks; although

    precautions were taken to prevent thawing in these areas, thawing did occur

    resulting in considerable trouble due to inadequate foundations. On future

    installations, a piling foundation with the piles driven 8 to 10 ft. (three

    to four times thaw depth) will be standard under the boiler, water tanks,

    and pits , as well as the equipment already listed.

            ( 4 4 ). Piling under pipe racks and catwalk to be placed a minimum of 8 ft.

    in the ground. Piling for pipe racks placed 5 ft. in the ground have proved

    inadequate because of deep thawing near ruts where heavy equipment was


            Experience has shown that in using a piling foundation, the area of

    greatest danger is that near the well bore . It was found that 16-in. con–

    ductor pipe set at 115 ft. and cemented back to the surface would take no

    appreciable load after thawing occurred in the incompetent “muck” formation

    in which it was set. Also, the 11 3/4-in . surface string set at 1,028 ft.

    and cemented with 300 sacks of cement required additional support other

    than that provided by the 16 -in. casing. The practice has been adopted to

    support the landing base for the surface pipe from piling placed far enough

    from the well bore not to be thawed by the warm drilling mud. Piling as

    close as 4 ft. to the well bore supported load and apparently remained

    frozen. It is definitely known that the temperature in the rathole located

    9 ft. from the well bore remained below freezing (approximately 27°F t . at

    15 ft. below ground level) at all times. This was true even though drilling

    operations extended over an entire year, starting in June 1947 and ending in

    018      |      Vol_IIB-0349                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    June 1948, with mud circulating temperatures reaching 85°F. It is of

    interest to note that in one well the permanently frozen ground extended

    to a depth of approximately 950 ft. and that the formation temperature

    measured at 6,194 ft. was 154°F.

            The distribution pattern of piling, including the number, depends upon

    the type of substructure, loads to be carried, and the size and strength of

    the individual piles. Piling may be allowed to extend several feet above the

    ground level and, depending upon the height of the substructure, a very

    shallow cellar or no cellar at all may be used. It is desirable to keep the

    depth of the cellar to a minimum to eliminate as much as possible the tendency

    to thaw the area under the derrick floor. Actually, in arctic operations a

    deep cellar is not required because it is necessary to set the casing lancing

    head or landing base above ground level. It has been found by experience

    that, if the landing base is places below ground level, the water that accumu–

    lates in the cellar or around the landing base during the summer months will

    freeze, with the danger of ice expansion exerting enough upward force on the

    base or bottom flange o r f the landing head to part the surface casing. Provi–

    sion can be made for expansion of intermediate or oil strings, but after the

    well is completed, the surface casing “freeze-in” makes any provision for

    expansion very difficult. It has been found expedient to have no clamps,

    flanges, or couplings within the active zone under which water could accumulate

    and against which ice could exert a sizable upward force. In view of the

    above, cellars used are not deeper than 3 or 4 ft.

            For deep wells (12,000 ft. or deeper), drilling mud temperatures are

    anticipated which will be high enough to require special provisions for cooling

    019      |      Vol_IIB-0350                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    the mud. During the winter months it is a very simple matter to keep the

    mud cool because of the low atmospheric temperatures, it being necessary

    only to circulate the warm drilling fluids through a cooling pit located

    outside of the rig house. Outside temperatures, which are ordinarily below

    zero, and the high wind velocities, which are usually present, cool the mud

    rapidly. However, during the summer months the atmospheric temperatures

    rise as high as 70° or 80°F., and it is not considered possible to keep the

    mud temperatures low enough by using only this means of cooling. Since it

    is essential that very little thawing be permitted around the piling which

    supports the derrick and other drilling equipment, a cooling jacket has been

    designed for placement around the conductor pipe so that a cooling fluid may

    be circulated. This refrigerating jacket may have to be as long as 300 feet

    in order to protect properly both casing and piling from thawing action.

            Since the reliability of a refrigerating system of this type in oil-well

    drilling has not been proved, an additional precaution has been taken to

    support the heavy load which can be expected to be placed on the casing

    landing base. For deep wells, casing loads may be as high as 400,000 lb s .

    Since some trouble has been experienced on previous wells, due to thawing

    around the surface pipe permitting settling of the landing base and surface

    casing when the load of the oil string was imposed, a support has been

    designed to allow transfer of this load to piling located 15 feet from the

    well bore. The landing base is supported by large I-beams which in turn

    are supported by 2-in. diameter steel cables. The cables form a suspension

    bridge which transfers the load to the piling. To avoid any unnecessary

    expense, in case it should not be necessary to run a long string of casing

    or in case the cooling system should prove adequate, this casing support is

    020      |      Vol_IIB-0351                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    designed so that it need not be installed until it is definitely known

    that it will be required. It is, however, necessary to drive the additional

    piling used in supporting the ends of the cables prior to the time that the

    derrick is erected. Details of this casing support are now being worked out.

            Drilling Mud. In an area where atmospheric temperatures range from

    80°F. to as low as −65°F., and where ground temperatures range from 22°F.

    at a few feet below the surface to more than 150°F. at a depth of 7,000 feet,

    a number of difficulties are encountered in handling a water-base drilling

    mud. A number of methods have been tried in attempting to determine the

    best way of handling drilling mud. Considerable attention has been given

    to the use of oil-base muds, but this type of mud is not considered satis–

    factory for use in wild-cat drilling, and also the use of this type of mud

    inside a closed building presents serious fire hazards. Even without these

    two disadvantages, the high cost of an oil-base mud in such a remote area

    as northern Alaska would almost forbid its usage. The most commonly used

    drilling mud is a bentonite-base mud to which has been added sufficient

    barites to give a satisfactory weight.

            To avoid freezing of the drilling fluid, a number of methods have been

    tried to keep the drilling fluid warm. Steel mud pits fitted inside with

    steam coils were tried in northern Canada and found to be unsatisfactory,

    due to the fact that the drilling mud baked on the outside of the coils and

    formed a good insulator. As a result very little heat was transferred from

    the steam to the mud. To avoid difficulty, steam coils were built around the

    outside of the mud pits. However, using this type of pit during extremely

    cold weather without housing proved expensive and not too satisfactory. The

    most successful system found for keeping the mud at a temperature above

    021      |      Vol_IIB-0352                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    freezing has been s t o house the mud ditches and pits completely. It has

    been found that the heat supplied by the drilling engines and the pump

    engines is, in most instances, adequate to maintain a temperature well

    above Creezing inside a closed building.

            In drilling operations that are expected to continue into the winter

    months, the precedure has been adopted of completely housing all equipment,

    using either a canvas or a plywood covering. For shallow wells, which can

    be drilled in two or three months, it has proved expedient to start these

    wells during Jun d e and complete them before the beginning of cold weather,

    usually the latter part of September. In such cases, it is possible to

    keep the mud at a proper temperature by adding either warm water or steam

    to the pits as required. A small, portable boiler has been found suitable

    for this service. For deep wells, additional heat, other than that supplied

    by the drilling engines and pump engines, is usually supplied by a boiler

    or a forced-Craft oil-burning heater.

            Although it is necessary to keep the mud temperatures above freezing,

    it is also desirable to avoid thawing the frozen ground (which sometimes

    extends to a depth of more than 900 ft.) . For this reason it is desirable to

    drill using mud at a temperature only a few degrees above freezing while

    drilling the surface hole. The use of a mud that is too warm will excessively

    thaw the relatively unconsolidated surface formations, and possibly result in

    serious difficulties due to caving or loss of circulation.

            As drilling progresses, the mud temperatures gradually increase until,

    at a depth of 6,000 to 7,000 ft., the temperature of the circulating fluid

    will stay between 70° and 85°F. without outside heat. This holds true as

    long as drilling is in progress, but the mud will cool rapidly and sometimes

    022      |      Vol_IIB-0353                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exporation and Drilling

    freeze when the rig motors are shut down for overhaul of equipment, fishing

    jobs, waiting for cement, etc.

            Some difficulty has been experienced in disposing of drill cuttings and

    waste mud because of freezing. If this material is dumped outside the rig

    house, it freezes and stacks up, making removal necessary at regular intervals.

    Removal of the cuttings and waste drilling mud by use of a bulldozer has been

    found satisfactory. This is particularly true if the drilling rig has been

    so laid out that there is a reasonable slope of the ground away from the pit

    side of the rig house.

            Several types of mud pits have been tried, including earthen pits blasted

    in the ground with dynamite, steel and wooden pits buried a few feet in the

    ground, wooden pits set above ground, and steel pits set above ground. Portable

    steel pits, similar to those currently used in drilling in temperate climates,

    have been found most satisfactory. These pits are not only better from a

    watertight standpoint, but are least damaged when being thawed. The pits

    ordinarily are set from one to two feet above ground level to allow air to

    circulate below the pits, and the natural tundra covering is left on the

    ground surface as an insulation against thawing. By so placing the pits,

    thawing of the surface around the pit foundation due to the warm drilling mud

    is kept to a minimum. Also, freezing-in of the pits after completion of

    drilling operation s is avoided. It is practically impossible to salvage a

    mud pit that has been placed as much as one or two feet below the surface

    of the ground.

            Other than the factors mentioned above, no mud problems have been

    encountered that are not ordinarily encountered in warmer climates.

    023      |      Vol_IIB-0354                                                                                                                  
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            P R r eparations for Running Casing. Due to the extreme temperatures and

    difficulties of transportation, a number of problems occur in handling and

    running casing that would not ordinarily be encountered in drilling opera–

    tions in warmer climates. It is necessary to move all heavy material from

    the main warehouses at Point Barrow to the drilling location during the

    winter months when ice is in suitable condition for freighting. The

    pipe is unloaded at the location on the ground because it is not usually

    possible to anticipate drilling locations far enough in advance to permit

    the building of adequate pipe racks. Since the casing is usually unloaded

    at the location during February or March, it is always covered with snow at

    the time rigging-up operations start at the beginning of the summer thaw.

    As soon as pipe racks can be constructed, the casing is moved off the ground

    to prevent it from sinking in the mud that forms during July and August. To

    conserve heavy timbers, it is sometimes necessary to use empty oil drums to

    build casing racks. Unless precautions have been taken in advance to plu s g the

    ends of each joint of casing, the joints are invariably filled with ice and

    snow and possibly frozen mud and gravel.

            Practically all of the wells in this area are spudded in during the month

    of June, and for this reason the surface casing is practically always set during

    the summer months. Therefore, on these casing jobs, the problems are the same

    as would be encountered in operations in warmer climates. The temperature

    during the summer months is practically always above freezing.

            Wells that are started early in the summer are completed during the fall

    or winter months when subzero temperatures prevail. In addition to the cold

    temperatures and the ice and snow, which is invariably present, operations

    during the winter are further hampered by short periods of daylight. There is

    024      |      Vol_IIB-0355                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    not sufficient daylight during the months of November, December , and January

    for outside work without the aid of flood lighting except during two or

    three hours in the middle of the day. The problems and hazards involved in

    running a long string of casing are numerous under the best of conditions.

    When the additional limitations imposed by subzero temperatures and near

    darkness are added, it becomes necessary to exercise the greatest care in

    making advance preparations for a casing job.

            Experience has shown that, except during the summer, it is practically

    impossible to prepare casing for running into the hole unless the casing

    racks are in some manner covered so that they can be heated. In attempting

    to work with casing on outside racks, a crew is confronted not only with the

    discomforts of severe cold and blowing snow, but also with the fact that the

    casing protectors are usually frozen and very difficult to remove from the

    pipe. Unless the ends of the casing have been properly plugged and the pluge

    have remained in place, each joint of pipe will be full of snow or ice and

    will require steaming in order to clear the joint, and unless the racks are

    covered, it is not possible to steam the snow and ice from the joint before

    it is pulled through the V-door in the derrick cover. Due to limitations of

    space, it is not feasible to handle more than two or three joints of casing

    in the V-door at a time. Steam hoses can be placed in these joints while

    another joint is being made up to go in the hole. However, these joints

    extend out on the walk and make it necessary to have the V-door open practically

    all the time. Even if canvas is draped across the V-door, enough cold air

    circulates into the rig house to make it impossible to keep the temperature

    on the rig floor above freezing. Because of these various factors, the

    practice of covering the walk and pipe racks with a wood-frame, canvas-cover ed,

    025      |      Vol_IIB-0356                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    low-roofed house has been adopted. This pipe-rack cover is not required for

    drilling operations and is constructed only after it is definitely known

    that casing will be run. The covered area can be conveniently heated,

    using the Herman Nelson airplane-type heaters, which are available at

    each rig location. In constructing the house over the pipe racks, provi–

    sion is made to permit rolling of additional casing from outside racks over

    onto the covered racks. It is impractical to cover enough racks for all of

    the pipe used in running a long string of casing. After the racks have been

    properly covered and heated, the problems involved in running casing are no

    different from the usual problems in other areas.

            Cementing Operations. When working in permafrost, considerable diffi–

    culty is experienced in getting cement to set properly, and investigations

    have been made by a number of people in an effort to determine the best

    method of handling cementing operations. From the experience of the operators

    who have been drilling in northern Canada for a number of years, it was learned

    that the probability of getting a satisfactory cement job around the conductor

    pipe or shallow surface strings of casing was very slight. Owing to the fact

    that the formations encountered at shallow depths (100 to 200 ft.) are

    usually incompetent and many times contain lenses of ice that may be several

    feet thick, it is difficult to get the cement either to set properly or to

    make a proper bond with the formation. It has been general practice with

    most operators to use ordinary portland cement, although high-early-strength

    cements have been tried, as well as calcium chloride as an admixture with

    various types of cement. The use of a low-heat-of-hydration cement rather

    than a high-heat cement has been advised. Where the formations penetrated

    consisted of muck and ice lenses, it has been found inadvisable to heat the

    slurry before placement.

    026      |      Vol_IIB-0357                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exp l oration & Drilling

            Before operations were started in NPR-4 by the U.S. Navy Construction

    Battalion personnel, additional information was obtained concerning the

    action of cement at below-freezing and near-freezing temperatures by perform–

    ing a series of experiments in the laboratories of the Haliburton Oil Well

    Cement Company. Tests were made to determine the rate at which warm drilling

    mud thawed frozen rock, and to determine the rate at which portland cement

    mixed with different percentages of calcium chloride would set at subfreezing

    temperatures. Other information was obtained relative to the effect of

    different percentages of calcium chloride on the strength, setting time, and

    time-of-pumpability of the portland cement slurry. These tests showed that

    at subfreezing temperatures, using either two, four, or six per cent of

    calcium chloride by weight of cement, and mixing the slurry at a temperature

    of approximately 70°F., the slurry set very slowly and in most cases froze

    before it reached a final set. The desirability of keeping the cement warm

    while it was setting and waiting longer than the usual period before drilling

    the plug was definitely demonstrated. It was also found that warm drilling

    mud circulated in frozen rock would thaw the rock an appreciable distance in

    a matter of a few hours, indicating that the cement slurry in a well would not

    be expected to set in contact with frozen formation (provided the formations

    were reasonably competent), but would in contact with formation which was

    thawed and at a temperature near the temperature of the mud used while

    drilling. However, in formations which are not competent or which contain

    ice lenses or fractures filled with ice, it is recognized that the drilling

    mud circulated will thaw the ice or frozen muck, causing a cavernous condition.

    027      |      Vol_IIB-0358                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

            In view of the above information it is desirable to set the surface

    string casing in oil wells where incompetent formations are present at depths

    of 100 to 150 ft. below the permafrost. Due to the fa x c t that permafrost in

    NPR-4 extends to a depth of more than 900 ft. at most locations, it has been

    necessary to set surface casing from 1,000 to 1,100 ft. in most wells. This

    does not strictly apply to locations in the southern part of this Reserve

    where the formations at shallow depths are better compacted. The greatest

    difficulty is encountered in setting 50- to 100-ft. strings of conductor

    pipe and in setting pipe in shallow holes where it is considered too expensive

    to set a long s g t ring of surface casing. In some cases, a considerable amount

    of trouble is encountered, due to mud breaking out around the outside of the

    conductor pipe before the hole can be drilled to the desired depth for setting

    surface pipe. As a general practice for cementing conductor pipe, it has been

    found expedient to use high-early-strength cement and warm the mixing water

    to a temperature of 90° to 100°F. The warm mixing water gives the cement a

    chance to start its hydration process before the slurry temperature is reduced

    to freezing by the formation, and in some cases a satisfactory shutoff is

    obtained. In any event, by cementing the conductor string in preference to

    setting the pipe without cementing, the volume of mud that leaks around the

    conductor is kept to a minimum and usually does not present a too serious

    hindrance to drilling operations.

            The procedure followed in setting the surface string of casing has been

    to use portland cement and heat the mixing water to a temperature between

    100° and 130°F., using sufficient cement to circulate into the cellar. After

    the cement has had adequate time to take an initial set (at least 12 hours is

    allowed), the pressure is released from the casing string, and the drill pipe

    028      |      Vol_IIB-0359                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    is run in the hole to near the top of the cement plug. This is done to permit

    injection of steam with the idea in mind of heating the drilling mud inside

    the casing. By injecting enough steam into the drilling mud to keep it at a

    temperature just below boiling for a period of approximately two days, it has

    been found that ordinarily cement will set and harden so that a satisfactory

    cement job is obtained. After the drill pipe is pulled out of the hole, the

    mud will remain at a temperature well above 100°F. for as long as two days.

    It is recommended that at least 72 hours be allowed for the cement to harden

    before drilling the plug.

            Although temperatures below freezing are encountered at depths of 900 to

    950 feet, the temperature gradient approaches normal for other areas from that

    depth to the total depths which have been drilled in NPR-4. At one well the

    bottom of the permafrost was determined to be approximately 950 ft., and at

    6,194 ft. the formation temperature was 154°F. In view of this, it is possible

    to use normal cementing procedures in cementing intermediate and oil strings

    of casing. However, since the mixing water is ordinarily obtained from lakes

    which are either covered with several feet of ice, or in which, in any event,

    the water is at a temperature near freezing, it is sometimes advisable to

    warm the mixing water with steam, even when cementing at depths of 4,000 to

    5,000 feet. This, of course, depends largely upon the quantity and type

    of cement to be used, and the expected placement time. In cases where port–

    land cement is used, it is good practice to use mixing water at a low tempera–

    ture in order to have adequate time to place the cement. However, if a slow–

    setting oil well cement is used for a relatively short string of casing, the

    mixing water should be warmed to a temperature of at least 70°F. in order to

    get the cement to reach a final set without too long a shutdown period.

    029      |      Vol_IIB-0360                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

            Since practically all drilling operations in NPR-4 are at isolated

    locations, which are accessible to heavy equipment only during the winter

    months, it is necessary to equip each drilling rig with a cementing unit.

    Because cementing operations may be required at temperatures as low as −40°

    to −50°F., it is necessary to house the cementing units and make adequate

    provision to prevent freezing of the water lines and cement discharge hoses.

    The cementing equipment itself is customarily house s d in the rig house which

    covers the mud pumps and other drilling equipment. However, it has been

    found advisable to place the mixing hopper in a special lean-to canvas–

    covered house separated from the drilling equipment and cementing pumps.

    This is done to afford additional room for handling cement, which is not

    ordinarily available inside the regular rig house, and also to prevent the

    cement dust from getting into machinery and damaging the moving parts. Due

    to the numerous difficulties that can be encountered in any cementing operation,

    and particularly t i n a cementing operation conducted in subzero temperatures,

    complete preparations have been found necessary well in advance of any expected

    cementing job. All machinery is checked and put in the best possible condition,

    ample provisions are made for heating all machinery, and suitable r e amps are

    built for handling the cement.

            The cement used at a drilling location in this area is of necessity

    purchased many months prior to its usage and receives rather severe treatment

    due to the numerous times it must be handled in getting it from the cement

    plant to the locations. In many cases the cement is stored either in a ware–

    house at Point Barrow or at some remote location for two years or longer.

    For this reason, there has been great difficult in keeping cement packed

    in either cloth or waterproof paper bags, or a combination of both, in suitable

    030      |      Vol_IIB-0361                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Gillespie & Coleman: Petroleum Exploration and Drilling

    condition for use in oil - well cementing. An effort was made to obtain cement

    in commercial metal cement containers. However, such cement containers have

    not been available, and it has been found expedient to pack cement in metal

    powder cans equipped with a quick-opening waterproof top. These cans hold

    approximately three sacks of cement, and the cement plus the can gives a

    total weight of 320 pounds. These have been found to be a suitable size for

    rolling to the cement hopper, and they can be dumped by two men without undue

    difficulty. Although to date cement has not been stored for any appreciable

    time in this type of can, it is believed that, since they were satisfactory for

    the storage of gunpowder, they will prove satisfactory for the storage of



    Bart W. Gillespie & J. Ralph Coleman

    Geological and Geophysical Operations

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0362                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (Walter English)




    Geological Methods 1
    Geophysical Methods 5

    001      |      Vol_IIB-0363                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (Walter English)



            Although closely allied from a scientific point of view, geological

    and geophysical field work require quite different methods and different

    types of support. Modifications in methods necessary because of arctic

    conditions are, therefore, discussed separately for each. The following

    descriptions are to be taken as applying particularly to exploration for

    oil in Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4, Alaska.



            Geological field investigations consist of examining the rocks which

    may be sampled at or near the surface, selecting a system of classification

    into groups suited to the particular region, and mapping the areal extent

    and structural attitude of each group. The number of groups and the detail

    in which they are mapped are controlled by the purpose of the investigation

    and the funds and time available. Considerable information may be obtained

    by stereoscopic viewing of aerial photographs. Viewing the ground from an

    airplane or by means of field glasses from a neighboring hilltop will fill

    in many of the details. However, the most reliable and basic information

    must be acquired by direct examination on the ground; the geologist visits

    the outcrops, determines the character and attitude of the rocks, and takes

    002      |      Vol_IIB-0364                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. English: Geological and Geophysical Operations

    takes samples for laboratory study. It is this requirement of examination

    on the ground that makes geological mapping in the a A rctic a rather arduous


            The rocks themselves and their structural attitudes are, to all intents,

    of the same character in the a A rctic as in more temperate zones. It might be

    expected that sedimentary rocks would present characteristic arctic types,

    but apparently the geological processes of the a A rctic are not sufficiently

    different from elsewhere to make any modifications in the methods of study

    necessary for that reason. The igneous and metamorphic rocks are, likewise,

    of the same character as met with elsewhere. The presence of ice as a rock

    and as a rock constituent in frozen ground presents problems of study that

    are somewhat different from the problems of glacial geology of high altitudes

    of the temperate zone. The physiography of the arctic coastal plane plain is a

    novel and fascinating problem to the newcomer. The origin of the thousands

    of large and small oval lakes, all with their major axes oriented in the

    same direction, has not as yet been fully explained.

            Direct examination of outcrops is dependent for its success upon the

    presence of sufficient outcrops, and on the ability of the geologist to

    locate and visit them. In the higher, more rugged parts of the Brooks Range,

    the steeper slopes remain partially bare of snow in winter. It would be

    possible to carry on some field work here, but it would not be advantageous

    due to rigorous climate and the small amount of daylight available. In

    lower hills with less rugged topography, and particularly where the underlying

    rocks are sedimentary, the surface is completely covered in the winter. For

    T t his reason field work by geologists must be confined to the summer months.

    003      |      Vol_IIB-0365                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. English: Geological and Geophysical Operations

            In general, outcrops are less abundant in the Arctic under similar

    conditions of terrain and rock type than they are farther south. The arctic

    moss covers quite effectively a very large proportion of the total area.

    Variations in soil color and vegetation are not usable for interpretation

    to any great extent in the Arctic. Moss will cling to fairly steep slopes

    and not even the smallest chip of rock will be present on the surface. While

    this is the general condition, thin layers of hard sandstone or limestone will

    often become evident at the surface by a scattering of rubble fragments along

    the top of the moss over the position of the bed. These have been designated

    rubble traces by geologists mapping them. Sometimes such rubble traces can

    be followed on the ground for long distances without coming to any outcrop

    of the underlying material.

            Though hidden from direct view, the underlying rocks may be only a

    matter of a foot or so under much of the surface. Thus, samples can be

    obtained by a small amount of digging in most places. Even though chemical

    weathering is at a minimum, it is still hard to dig deep enough with a pick

    to get a satisfactory sample because of the g f rozen condition of the ground.

    It has been suggested that, where the character of the transportation support

    of a party is capable of handling the extra weight, it would be desirable

    to have some sort of miniature rotary drill capable of taking cores in fairly

    hard rock to a depth of about ten feet.

            The task of locating outcrops is much facilitated by a study of vertical

    aerial photographs of the area. For this reason, it is highly desirable that

    the geologist be furnished photographs giving full vertical coverage with

    stereo overlap before field operations are commenced, so that routes of

    travel may be planned intelligently and promising areas selected for camps.

    004      |      Vol_IIB-0366                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. English: Geological and Geophysical

    The photographs will indicate where outcrops are likely to be found, guide

    the geologist to the location by the best route, and, when the examination

    is complete, will place the locality on his aerial map.

            While much of the value of pictures may be obtained by nonstereo

    inspection, it is the writer’s personal feeling that the additional informa–

    tion coming from the use of a stereoscope makes it mandatory for the geologist

    to have some sort of stereoscope in the field with him. Various designs of

    small bulk are available, the smallest being the single prism eyepiece used

    by the Geological Survey. Although this eyepiece is not considered desirable

    as an office instrument, it [ ?] certainly is small enough that nobody should

    complain of its bulk in the field.

            Pictures are of much value for further office study and many of the beds

    found at single localities in the field may be traced for miles on pictures

    examined later in the office. There should also be some parallax reading

    instrument available so that measurements may be made on the pictures, and

    amount of dip of beds computed. Very often dips read on bed traces observable

    in pictures from a ridge crest across a gully to the next ridge crest give

    better values for strike and dip than those taken in the field by readings

    on small outcrops.

            The planning of a geological investigation of a new region will probably

    include the following steps or stages. First, the region should be photographed

    and the photographs examined by the office geologist. Then, a few airplane

    trips should be taken over the territory to get an idea of logistic possibilities,

    in relation to the location of the most interesting areas. Next, it will probably

    be desirable to traverse the major streams by boat. In this connection, it may

    be remarked that a navigable stream is one that will float a canoe and is

    005      |      Vol_IIB-0367                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. English: Geological and Geophysical

    deep enough over the rapids for the canoe to be dragged across. Next, “weasel”

    parties should visit areas remote from navigable streams. Finally, spot

    landings from an airplane should be made to visit isolated outcrops. For

    this last-mentioned task a helicopter would be ideal if they are considered

    safe for the weather conditions which might be expected.



            Geophysical studies for oil exploration are frequently carried on with

    magnetometer, gravimeter, and seismograph. With each of these we have had

    experience in the Arctic. Earth resistivity and earth electrical currents

    are studied on mining projects. Resistivity has been used for frozen ground

    studies but not for geology in the Arctic.

            The magnetometer has recently taken to the air, the instrument used being

    an adaptation of an instrument developed during World War II for locating

    submarines. One of the first large area magnetometer jobs was that of the

    Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4. Electrical storms that affect the magnetometer

    readings are more prevalent in the Arctic than elsewhere, but otherwise there

    are no technical difficulties except those of aerial navigation and carrying

    ground location. Turbulent atmosphere reduces the accuracy of the magnetic

    observations because of sudden accelerations given the instruments. Since

    electrical storms and wind storms are less prevalent in the summer and it

    is easier to spot ground location, then, surveys of this type are best carried

    out in the summertime.

            Conventional gravimeter work requires a ground party, and most of the field

    work is that of surveying. A stadia traverse is sufficient for a plan location

    but a continuous line of levels, accurate to the foot, is necessary to give

    006      |      Vol_IIB-0368                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. English: Geological and Geophysical

    correction factors to be used in interpreting the gravimeter readings. The

    gravimeter readings themselves are unaffected by climate and do not require

    any preliminary preparation of the ground at a point where a reading is to

    be taken. Seasonal limitations are entirely those of logistics and sufficient

    light to carry on surveying operations.

            A rather novel type of gravimeter work was carried out in the Navel

    Reserve to get data on regional gravity variations, in addition to work of

    the conventional type. The regional work was done by moving the gravimeter

    from place to place in an airplane, landings being made with skis on frozen

    lakes during the winter and with pontoons in the summer. Elevation control

    was obtained from a base aneroid barometer and one carried in the field with

    the gravimeter. The latitude, which is also necessary for interpreting the

    readings was obtained with sufficient accuracy from available maps. The data,

    when compiled, gave a consistent pattern of broad gravitational variations,

    so the work was considered successful.

            It has been suggested that the effect of frozen ground must be considered

    in interpreting detailed gravity maps. If the frozen layer, which may be up

    to 900 feet thick, contains erratic lenses of ice, the difference in density

    between the ice and adjacent sediments would produce gravity anomalies. These

    might be mistaken for anomalies in more deeply buried rocks. Information

    obtained from shot holes drilled for seismograph work indicates that in the

    first hundred feet of depth there are wide variations in ice content of the

    individual beds. Lenses of nearly pure ice are encountered at all depths to

    which shot holes have been drilled. Running sands and gravels are also en–

    countered, and these are interpreted as “dry frost,” a term invented by the

    placer gold miners to describe beds of sand and gravel that are below the

    007      |      Vol_IIB-0369                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. English: Geological and Geophysical

    freezing temperature of water but do not contain any ice in the spaces

    between the rock fragments. Both dry frost and ice lenses have very low

    densities compared to the other components of the geologic column. Closely

    spaced gravity readings, taken across the steep bluffs that bound some of

    the lakes, indicates a density of the surface beds as low as 1.20. Such

    a low density can be accounted for only on the assumption that a good propor–

    tion of such beds is ice.

            A large amount of seismograph work has been done on the arctic coastal

    plain. The greater part of this has been by the reflection method, but

    refractions have also been used. In general, the reflection seismographs

    have excellent quality reflections. Except in areas of very low dip, this

    method is believed to yield reliable indications of the underlying structure.

    For areas of very low dips the possibility of error must be considered due

    to the peculiar characteristics of the frozen ground layer, which extends

    from the surface down to depths of several hundred feet. Temperature surveys

    in wells in this area indicate that the temperature of 32°F. is reached at

    depths of 700 to 900 ft. Very little is known at present of the wave trans–

    mission characteristics of frozen ground, and of the variations that may take

    place from one locality to another. There is some indication given by a

    study of the reflections that there may be variations in the quality of the

    frozen ground, and also that its thickness may vary in relation to lakes,

    past and present. Such variations, insofar as they are proved to exist, might

    lead th the mapping of pseudo structures.

            Refraction shooting presents no unusual problems in the Arctic. The

    velocity of wave transmission in the frozen ground is of the order of 8,500

    to 11,000 ft. /sec. This is considerably greater than that of the immediately

    008      |      Vol_IIB-0370                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. English: Geological and Geophysical

    underlying beds over most of the arctic slope. This results in first arrivals

    out to distances of 15,000 ft. from the shot point, and sometimes 20,000 ft.,

    having wave paths through the frozen zone. Refraction profiles had, therefore,

    just as well begin at a distance of 15,000 ft. from the shot point rather than

    extending the spread back to the shot point.

            Logistic support for seismograph crews is a much more formidable tack

    than for other types of geophysical or geological parties. The necessity of

    carrying along a shot-hole drill, which with its mounting weighs several tons,

    sets the mobility limit for the party. With such a heavy drill unavoidable,

    the other equipment may just as well be assembled in units of several tons

    weight, and this is done. The whole caravan will consist of ten to fourteen

    sled-mounted trailer units (wanigans), with tractors to haul them, and “weasels”

    for taking men back and forth during field work.

            The field camp of a seismograph crew must be moved every few days, and

    the moving of the caravan of trailers is a difficult task in the late summer

    when the ground may be thawed to a depth of one or two feet. Transportation

    is at its best in the winter and before the thaw in early spring. For this

    reason caches of dynamite, fuel, food, and other supplies are put out by

    tractor train during the winter along the route to be followed later by the

    shooting crew. In this way the total tonnage to be moved from camp to camp

    is reduced. From early spring to the time of thaw is the most efficient time

    for the shooting crew to do its work.


    Walter English

    Seismograph and Gravity Meter Operations

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0371                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (John A. Legge, Jr.)




    History 1
    General 2
    Seismograph Operations 5
    Gravity Meter Operations 9

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0372                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge, Jr.: Seismograph and Gravity Meter Operations



    Fig. 1 Geophysical drill wanigan 6-a
    Fig. 2 Seismic recording wanigan on weasel frame 8-a
    Fig. 3 Seismograph cable laying weasel showing cable drums 8-b
    Fig. 4 General view of seismograph mobile camp 11-a

    001      |      Vol_IIB-0373                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. John A. Legge, Jr.



            History . Seismograph and gravity meter operations were first under–

    taken in the Alaskan Arctic, in 1945, under the sponsorship of the United

    States Navy as part of a program to determine the extent of the oil reserves

    of Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4. At this time operation of Naval Petroleum

    Reserve No. 4 was carried out by U.S. Naval Construction Detachment No. 1058.

    A small group of officers and men was assigned the duty of making a gravity

    meter survey of the Cape Simpson area inasmuch as the large seeps in this

    district were the subject of considerable speculation as to their origin.

    Seismograph operations were carried out by a group of four civilian tech–

    nicians of the United Geophysical Company assisted by a group of naval


            The original work at Cape Simpson was aimed at testing the applicability

    of gravity meter and seismograph exploration to arctic conditions, and the

    development of operational techniques. There was little doubt that gravity

    data of comparable accuracy to that obtainable in other parts of the world

    could be achieved.

            Since no great technical difficulties were encountered with the seismo–

    graph, the initial work was pointed toward the solution of the complex

    operational and equipment problems. In view of the fact that these operation

    002      |      Vol_IIB-0374                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

    were carried on entirely during the summer season, little factual informa–

    tion was obtained regarding winter operations.

            Early in 1946, the operation of Naval Petroleum Reserve was placed

    in the hands of civilian contractors who continued and expanded the work

    begun the previous year. In the years following, gravity meter and seismo–

    graph work was undertaken on an increased scope. Techniques were developed

    permitting the operation of geophysical parties as early as March. Equip–

    ment, particularly in respect to portable camps, was developed, which

    increased the mobility, efficiency, and comfort of the field parties.

            General. The purpose of a geophysical survey, whether it be gravimetric

    or seismic, is to obtain physical data that can be interpreted in terms of

    existing geological formations and structures. In order to accomplish these

    ends in an economic and efficient manner, the organization and planning

    previous to the actual operation must be thorough and complete. The Arctic

    is different from other regions of the world in this respect only in degree.

            The great variance between winter and summer seasons is matched by no

    other region. The winter season with its high winds, thick ice, and complete

    snow cover is the period of greatest mobility but of the least physical

    comfort. It is during the latter part of the winter (February to May) that

    fuel and all equipment too heavy to be carried by small aircraft must be put

    in the field for the season’s work, for once the thaw begins with its deterio–

    ration of lake, river, and sea ice, all long-distance hauling of heavy

    equipment and supplies must stop. Field parties are then dependent upon

    small aircraft for logistical support.

    003      |      Vol_IIB-0375                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

            Fuel for heating and operation of motorized equipment is of course

    the life blood of an operation in the Arctic. The estimation of fuel

    consumption must be carefully considered. Fuel must be cached along the

    route of the party in such a manner that a minimum of adjustment is neces–

    sary during the thaw period.

            The mechanized equipment requirements of both gravity meter and

    seismograph operations are similar, differing somewhat in quantity of units.

    The mechanization fulfills two prime purposes: camp movement, and transpor–

    tation of men and equipment in the field. The Caterpillar D-8 tractor with

    dozer blade and winch has been the principal prime mover, serving not only

    for movement of camps and supplies but for movement of heavy seismograph

    equipment in the field. For transportation of personnel in the field,

    scouting, and other light-duty operations, the “weasel,” U.S. Army Ordnance

    (M29C), has been used almost exclusively.

            Several types of mobile housing have been tried with varying degrees

    of success. The latest and most satisfactory type of housing has been

    found in the 16- by 24-foot Jamesway Hut mounted on pipe runners. This

    type of wanigan serves admirably for sleeping, office, galley, and mess;

    however, for units like a shop, utility, or storage, bolted-frame con–

    struction must be used because of their heavy-duty service. All wanigans

    are mounted on pipe runners, which allow a free clearance of 24 inches.

    Though this much clearance is not essential for winter operation, it is

    imperative for summer operation when units must be pulled through the mud

    and slush of the thaw.

    004      |      Vol_IIB-0376                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

            As with any modern arctic operation, air support is an important phase.

    Once in the field, parties are dependent upon air support for supplies, mail,

    and transportation of personnel to and from a main base when necessary.

    During the winter season, small ski-equipped aircraft may be used. It is

    also possible at this season to construct excellent runways on frozen lakes

    by merely removing the snow cover. Planes as big as a DC-3 have been safely

    landed on such landing strips. Between the period of complete freeze - up and

    complete thaw, an interim of approximately three weeks occurs in which there

    is not sufficient ice for ski landings nor sufficient water for float landings.

    p P reparation for this period must be such that the field party will be self-

    sufficient during this time. In the fall a similar condition exists when

    neither skis nor floats may be used. This period is considerably longer than

    the spring break-up as it takes longer to form safe ice for ski landings than

    it does to form sufficient water during the spring. Extensive use of the

    helicopter in the Arctic is not yet a reality but when such aircraft are

    available the problem of air support during thaw and freeze-up will be

    essentially eliminated.

            Radio contact with the main base of supply, at least on a daily basis,

    is extremely important. It is through this means of communication that the

    party may transmit all its routin s g business and reports of emergencies.

    Unfortunately, atnospheric conditions in the Arctic are such that radio

    contact cannot be maintained as much as desired. Periods from a few hours

    to several days are encountered during which communication with a mobile

    field party is virtually impossible.

    005      |      Vol_IIB-0377                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seimograph and Gravity Meter

            Clothing requirements of geophysical units very considerably depending

    upon the work in which the individual is engaged. Those engaged in inside

    work such as cooks, computers, and to some extent mechanics need clothing

    to protect them from exposure to the cold for only brief intervals. Those

    working outside, where quarters are available for periodically warming up,

    must have clothing somewhat warmer but not as heavy as individuals who are

    exposed to the weather for periods of several hours, e.g., surveyors.

    Clothing must warm but not bulky enough to hinder the operation of instru–

    ments and equipment. Native mukluks have gained universal favor amont geo–

    physical personnel. Alpaca or down parkas and pants have proved adequate

    for most geophysical personnel, though in intensely cold or windy weather,

    surveyors usually require fur parkas.



            Seismograph operations may be broken down into five basic units:

    surveying, drilling, shooting, recording, and computing. Though each of

    these operations is distinct within itself, their interdependency is such

    that the entire unit must work as a team. The strength of each division must

    be so planned that no particular unit is overworked, to maintain a uniform

    flow of data.

            Seismic surveying is basically no different in the Arctic than in other

    remote regions. Surveying instruments, in order to function properly, must

    be thoroughly cl d e aned and freed of all oil and grease that will stiffen when

    cold. Graphite or other lubricants not affected by cold must be substituted.

    Instruments once exposed to the cold should be kept outside to eliminate

    alternate heating and chilling, which cannot only be a source of error but

    will tend to cause internal fogging of the lenses.

    006      |      Vol_IIB-0378                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

            The surveying parties rely upon one or preferably two “weasels” for

    transportation, one of which is supplied with facilities for carrying

    instruments, tripods, stakes, and chains. The principal hindrance to

    arctic surveying occurs during the frequent periods of low visibility,

    whether it is blowin d g snow or fog. The time - worn “make hay while the sun

    shines” is in no place more applicable than in respect to arctic surveying.

            Two types of shot-hole drills have been used on Naval Petroleum Reserve

    No. 4 for drilling: the Failing 314 C and the Mayhew 1000. These units have

    been mounted on pipe runner sleds similar to those used for camp wanigans.

    A bolted-frame wanigan protects the drill crew and equipment from the weather

    (see Fig.1). This unit is towed from location to location by A a D-8 tractor,

    T t he driller usually serving in the dual capacity of driller and tractor


            During cold weather when drilling machinery is shut down between shift s,

    pumps and lines must be drained of drilling mud to prevent their being damaged

    by freezing. Because of the fire hazard involved, it has been found inadvisable

    to leave heaters with drilling equipment unattended.

            Water for the drilling operation has been supplied by water wanigans,

    which consist of one or two 5- by 5- by 7-foot steel pontoons mounted on a

    “go-devil” sled and covered with a frame wanigan. A fuel oil heater is main–

    tained in the wanigan to prevent freezing of the water during cold weather.

    The fire hazard cannot be avoided in these units and several have been lost

    from fires caused by faulty stoves or stove operation. Each of these water

    units contains a small centrifugal pump and the tanks are filled by pumping

    water from beneath the ice of lakes nearby the drilling operation.

    006a      |      Vol_IIB-0379                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 1

    007      |      Vol_IIB-0380                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

            Since 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of water are required per day for the

    drilling operation, an adequate water supply must be located near the site

    of the operation. Along the coastal areas where most of the lakes are quite

    shallow, it is frequently difficult to locate lakes that have not frozen to

    the bottom by late winter or spring. Local Eskimos are often cognizant of

    the deeper lakes and much time has been saved by making use of their know–

    ledge. In the plateau belt of the Alaska arctic slope, most of the lakes

    have a characteristic deep center, which may be as much as forty feet in

    depth, thus insuring an adequate water supply at any time. During the summer

    season, water is abundant in this area and presents no supply problem.

            In the Alaska arctic coastal plain, where most of the surface formations

    are unconsolidated sediments of relatively recent geologic age : , little diffi- comma not semicolon

    culty is encountered drilling the 60-foot holes usually required for seismograph

    work. With a 4½-inch, hard-faced, three-wing drag bit, the drilling of such a

    hole can be accomplished in 30 to 60 minutes. The freezing time of shot holes

    varies considerably but as a general rule a shot hole cannot be relied upon to

    stay open more than three hours if the drilling fluid is not removed. During

    the winter when there is no danger of surface water flowing back into the hole,

    water may be removed either by bailing or by blowing the hole dry with five to

    ten pounds of dynamite. Dry holes remain in excellent condition for several

    weeks if precautionary measures are taken to prevent their being filled by

    blowing snow. During the summer season when surface water is abundant, it is

    usually necessary to time the drilling operation so that the interval between

    the drilling and subsequent shooting and recording is small enough to prevent

    freezing of the shot holes.

    008      |      Vol_IIB-0381                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

            Water tamping of charges is necessary in order to obtain sufficient

    ground energy. Water for this purpose has been supplied to the shooting

    crew by units identical to those used by the drilling crew. Shooting depth,

    or the depth at which a shot must be fired to obtain the best energy return,

    is usually between 50 and 60 feet, though there are local areas which require

    a somewhat deeper or shallower placement of charges. Ten to twenty pounds

    of standard seismograph dynamite is usually sufficient to give a satisfactory

    energy return to reflected energy. Refraction shooting, on the other hand,

    requires charges of much greater magnitude to deliver energy over the long

    offsets. Charges of 500 to 1,000 lb. are common for offsets as great as

    40,000 ft.

            Elec t ronic seismograph instruments require very little special adaptation

    to arctic work (see Fig. 2 0 ). Electromagnetically damped geophones are

    necessary to eliminate the viscosity problem present with oil-damped geophones

    at low temperatures. Because of the close manufacturing tolerances of electric

    magnetically damped geophones, they must be tested in a cold chamber and

    altered, if necessary, to insure their operation in subzero temperatures. All

    cable insulation should be cold-tested to insure its remaining flexible at

    the temperatures encountered in the arctic winter (see Fig. 3).

            Amplifiers, recording oscillographs, and developing equipment must be

    artificially heated during [ ?] operating hours. This is essential to prevent

    condensers and resistors from changing their characteristics, to prevent

    fogging of the optical system from the operator’s breath, and to prevent

    freezing of the paper or film developing solutions.

    008a      |      Vol_IIB-0382                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 2

    008b      |      Vol_IIB-0383                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 3

    009      |      Vol_IIB-0384                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

            For best energy reception, geophones must be placed directly on the

    frozen ground. During the summer this can be accomplished by digging through

    the thawed tundra. In late summer the thaw seldom penetrates more than

    eighteen inches in tundra-covered areas.

            It has been the general practice to compute and plot the results in

    the field office. This procedure is in many respects most advantageous as

    it allows the seismologist an opportunity to keep a running check on the work

    and make changes in field procedure as conditions dictate . h H owever, if special–

    ized interpretation techniques are desired or a consolidation of the work of

    several parties, it is advisable to establish a central office for handling

    seismograph data from one or more parties.



            The equipment requirements of a gravity meter party in the Arctic are

    less than those of a seismograph operation. Prime moving equipment is needed

    only for the movement of camps and supplies as the field work can be carried

    out completely with light-duty equipment.

            Gravity meter surveying consists of two field procedures: surveying and

    gravity meter observation. Surveying for a gravity party in the Arctic, as

    in other remote regions where no previous vertical or horizontal control has

    been established, is more comple s x than in areas where adequate bench marks

    are available.

            In order to prevent the large accumulation of errors in horizontal control,

    a triangulation net of third-order accuracy is advisable. Within and adjoining

    such a net, locations of individual stations may be made by resection with

    plans table and alidade. The local variation of magnetic declination in the

    010      |      Vol_IIB-0385                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

    Arctic is such that no reliance can be placed in the magnetic needle for sur–

    veying purposes.

            In gravity surveys of a detail nature, elevation control should be such

    that station elevations are to an accuracy of approximately 0.5 feet. Wye or

    dumpy levels have been used exclusively for leveling of detail surveys in the


            Approximately four surveying crews, one triangulation, one plane table,

    and two level, are necessary in the Arctic to keep one gravity meter with

    sufficient stations. In areas of hilly terrain it is usually necessary to

    increase the plans table and level personnel, as their production will be

    limited appreciably.

            Gravity meters for use in the Arctic must be previously cold-tested for

    excessive drift. Even a mong meters of the came make, a variation in drift has

    been found which is accentuated when they are operated in subzero temperatures.

            Transportation is of necessity much slower than that in areas of developed

    roads and highways. For that reason gravity base stations must be established

    at more frequent intervals than is usually necessary. The tying and establishment

    of gravity bases is a tedious and expensive operation due to the high cost per

    mile of operation of the “weasel” (M29C), and for that reason it has been

    found not only economical but more accurate to establish bases during the

    winter by a small ski-equipped aircraft.

            Where detailed gravity information is not desired yet a regional gravity

    picture of less degree of accuracy is advisable, the Arctic is almost ideally

    suited for an air-borne gravity meter operation. In 1947, 13,000 square miles

    were surveyed by means of such an operation on Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4.

    During the winter or spring the complete snow cover offers almost unlimited

    landing facilities for a small ski-equipped aircraft while during the summer

    011      |      Vol_IIB-0386                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Legge: Seismograph and Gravity Meter

    the abundant lakes offer landings for pontoon-equipped aircraft. Elevation

    control may be carried by surveying altimeters. Though no statistical

    analysis of the results of the above survey was made, the accuracy of

    repeated stations indicated that a high percentage of the stations were

    within an error of ten feet.

            The problems presented to gravity and seismograph operations in the

    Arctic are not ones involving techniques and measurements as much as of

    logistics during the widely differing summer and winter seasons (see Fig. 4).

    The necessity for sound planning, equipping, and timing of a geophysical

    operation in the Arctic cannot be underestimated. Mistakes are costly in

    time, money and under certain circumstances even lives.


    John A. Legge, Jr.

    011a      |      Vol_IIB-0387                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 4

    Deep Well Logging Methods in Arctic Alaska

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0388                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (Stewart E. Folk)




    Lithological 1
    Mineralogical 2
    Paleontological 3
    Fluorescence 4
    Gas Content of Drilling Fluid 4
    Electrical Resistivity and Potential 4
    Temperature 7
    Rate of Penetration 8
    Seismic Velocity 9

    001      |      Vol_IIB-0389                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (Stewart H. Folk)



            Experience of the writer in the Arctic has been entirely in northern

    Alaska, and the following discussion accordingly is restricted to operations

    in that area.

            Well logging methods employed in northern Alaska fall into two categories:

    ( 1 ) studies and analyses of samples brought to the surface which include:

    lithological, mineralogical, paleontological, fluorescence, and gas content

    of drilling fluid; and ( 2 ) measurement of properties of formations in situ

    as: electrical resistivity and potential, temperature, rate of penetration,

    and seismic velocity.

            All of the above-mentioned methods originated in other areas and have

    been applied to subsurface exploration in northern Alaska with little or no

    change in technique. A brief outline of each, with comments as to results

    obtained, is given in this article.

            Lithological. Samples of the strata penetrated by a well are taken at

    intervals of 5 or 10 feet as drilling progresses, and are examined micro–

    scopically to ascertain the presence of any petroleum and determine the

    character and thickness of each lithologic zone or formation. Samples of

    some types of rocks are treated chemically to obtain additional information

    concerning their composition. When cores are obtained, porosity and permea–

    bility, fluid content, and specific gravity analyses are made.

    002      |      Vol_IIB-0390                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Folk: Deep Well Logging

            Such lithological studies have been successful for the most part in

    their primary purpose, the recognition of oil-and/or gas-bearing zones

    encountered in the wells. A few oil and gas zones (of no commercial impor–

    tance, however,) were not detected by lithological examination, but

    subsequently were found by other means.

            In some parts of the world lithological logs are quite useful in

    tracing different formations from one well to another and to the outcrop area,

    thereby delineating geological structure and locating new oil fields. Unfor–

    tunately their utility in this respect is limited in northern Alaska, because

    in the greater part of the sedimentary section there are few distinctive

    zones that extend over a wide area. Furthermore, lithological studies of

    the Tertiary section, which probably amounts to as much as 8,000 feet in some

    [ ?] places, are made difficult by the lack of induration of the component strata;

    particles disaggregate rapidly, making it almost impossible to obtain repre–

    sentative samples unless cores are taken. Also the Tertiary formations cave

    or slough badly and contaminate samples from underlying strata. Most of the

    pre-Tertiary formations (Cretaceous and older), however. are firmly indurated

    and accordingly afford good samples for f logging.

            Mineralogical . Component minerals of sandstone formations are identified

    and their relative abundance determined. To facilitate this, samples of the

    formations first are disaggregated and the minerals separated on the basis of

    specific gravity by flotation in heavy liquids. In some regions certain heavy

    minerals, such as garnet, zircon, and tourmaline, are diagnostic of particular

    formations. This method of logging has not produced any notable results in

    northern Alaska as yet, but continued work may contribute data of more value

    in the future.

    003      |      Vol_IIB-0391                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Folk: Deep Well Logging

            Paleontological . Samples of all strata penetrated in drilling are

    examined for the presence of fossils that may establish the identity of

    the zone in which they occur and thus make it possible to correlate or

    trace that particular zone from place to place. Most of the paleontological

    work is concerned with microfossils. principally For e a minifera, so small that

    they can be identified only under a microscope.

            Relatively large and well-preserved microfossils are common in the upper

    Tertiary and Quaternary sediments, but these strata attain a maximum thickness

    of only a few hundred feet and consequently are of no importance from the

    standpoint of petroleum production. Microfossils in the lower Tertiary and

    Cretaceous formations, which constitute most of the stratigraphic section

    penetrated in drilling to date, are not abundant, and the species represented

    are for the most part quite small, arenaceous in composition, and in a poor

    state of preservation, and consequently are difficult to identify. The

    Tertiary sediments disaggregate readily, facilitating the separation of the

    microfossils from the samples but introducing the problem of contamination

    of samples by caving or sloughing of overlying strata in the hole. The

    Gretaceous and older formations are firmly indurated, and consequently furnish

    less contamination but require considerable labor to separate the microfossils.

    The utility of microfossils in northern Alaska for correlation purpose is

    minimized by the fact that most of them are long p - ranging forms; almost every

    species may occur at several places in the stratigraphic column, wherever

    conditions, at the time the sediments were being deposited, were faborable for

    the existence of that particular organism. Nevertheless, it is believed that

    lower Tertiary may be distingui hs sh ed from Cretaceous strata by micropaleontological

    evidence, and when more wells have been drilled it may be found possible f t o

    differentiate smaller lithologic unit ed s by the same means.

    004      |      Vol_IIB-0392                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Folk: Deep Well Logging

            Macrofossils, large enough to be recognized by the naked eye, are less

    abundant than the macrofossils and generally can be identified only when

    found in large- c d iamater cores; they have proved valuable, however, in

    determining the age of some formations in which no diagnostic microfossils

    were present.

            Fluorescence. Samples of the formations, obtained by drilling and coring,

    and of the drilling fluid, when it has returned to the surface after being

    circulated through the well bore, are examined under ultraviolet light;

    any petroleum that is present may be detected by its fluorescence. Drilling–

    equipment lubricants that also fluoresce sometimes get into the drilling fluid,

    but they may be distinguished by careful inspection. In some cases ultraviolet

    light will reveal the presence of petroleum where it would not be recognized

    under ordinary light. This is particularly true when the petroleum occurs in

    dark-colored sandstones, which are prevalent in the sedimentary section of

    northern Alaska.

            Gas Content of Drilling Fluid. A sample of any gas entrained in the

    drilling fluid when it reaches the surface is obtained by use of a vacuum

    chamber, and, accompanied by a certain amount of air, is passed over a hot

    wire filament. The presence of any combustible gas is indicated by a change

    in electrical resistance of the filament. Formations that contain an appre–

    ciable amount of gas may thus be recognized during the process of drilling,

    shortly after they have been penetrated by the bit.

            Electrical Resistivity and Potential . Electrical properties of the

    strata penetrated by a well are investigated by using an insulated cable

    and electrode assembly for traversing the well bore, with recording instru–

    ments at the surface. The two parameters - electrical resistivity and

    005      |      Vol_IIB-0393                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Folk: Deep Well Logging

    and potential - that commonly are measured bear a close relationship to the

    porosity and permeability, and fluid content of the strata. From the

    electrical log, the general character, exact depth, and thickness of each

    different lithologic zone may be determined, and in most cases any oil-and/or

    gas-bearing zones may be located.

            Electrical logs of wells in northern Alaska are comparable, in general,

    to those in other areas. In one respect the northern Alaska logs are

    superior; the fluid used in drilling, and which fills the well bore when the

    log is made, is a water-base mud with a rather high resistivity, ranging from

    5 to 14 ohm-meters, thus affording more accurate measurements of formation

    properties and more detailed and clear-cut logs than are obtained in other

    areas where the drilling fluid ordinarily has a resistivity of 2 o b h m-meters

    or less. The unusually high resistivity of the drilling fluid is attributed

    to its prevailingly low temperature and to the low mineral content of the

    lake and river water that is used as a base for the drilling fluid. As the

    wells penetrate to greater depths, the resistivity of the drilling fluid

    gradually decreases because of higher su o b surface temperatures and contamina–

    tion by saline waters from the deep formations.

            The relationship between electrical properties and lithology and fluid

    content is approximately the same for strata in the permanently frozen or

    permafrost zone (which is between 900 and 1,000 feet thick at the several

    localities where it has been measured) as it is for strata in the underlying

    nonfrozen zone. Apparently some of the water in the formations, especially

    in the finer-grained materials such as shales and siltstones, remains

    unfrozen at temperatures below 32°F.

    006      |      Vol_IIB-0394                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Folk: Deep Well Logging

            The apparent resistivity (or the resistivity as measured by well logging)

    of most shales ranges between approximately 5 and 20 o b h m-meters. Some shales,

    either more indurated or containing fresh or sulfur-bearing water, show

    resistivity values up to 70 and 80 o b h m-meters. The apparent resistivity

    of sandstones depends principally upon their fluid content; sandstones

    that contain fresh water or oil, or that are tightly cemented and accordingly

    contain no fluid, show high resistivities, ranging up to 500 o b h m-meters,

    whereas sandstones that contain salt water show resistivities down to as low

    as 5 o b h m-meters. Resistivity values of other types of strata similarly are

    related to the fluid content, both the fluid that exists in the free state

    in pore spaces and fluid molecules that are adsorbed on the surfaces of the

    component grains of the strata.

            The electrical potential values of the strata furnish an indication

    of their effective porosity and permeability. A permeable zone will exhibit

    a potential difference ranging from a few millivolts up to several hundred

    millivolts as compared to an adjacent nonpermeable stratum. Generally, the

    greater the contrast in permeability, the greater the difference of electrical


            Occasionally there is some difficulty in obtaining a satisfactory

    potential log of the formations, as a result of telluric current which produce

    a fluctuating electrical potential at the earth’s surface. Fortunately this

    condition s has been encountered only rarely, contrary to what might be expected

    in view of the intense atmospheric electromagnetic disturbances that are so

    common in arctic regions. If fluctuations in the potential of the earth’s

    surface do occur during the course of making an electrical log of a well, a

    reasonably good log may be obtained by modifying the measuring circuit so

    007      |      Vol_IIB-0395                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Folk: Deep Well Logging

    that a “ground” return at some depth in the well bore is used in place of

    the usual “ground” at the surface.

            It has not been possible to obtain reliable electrical logs of small–

    diameter (less then 6 in.) holes, such as those drilled for shallow core

    holes and seismograph shot holes, unless the drilling fluid is heated before

    it is circulated through the hole. If the fluid is not heated, ice will form

    on the walls of the hole through the permafrost zone and thus produce an

    insulating sheath that makes the electrical log meaningless. In large-diameter

    holes, however, the volume of drilling fluid is great enough that the electrical

    survey can be made before ice begins to form on the walls of the hole, even

    though the fluid is not heated.

            During winter months (September through May) the electrical logging unit

    must be suitably house s d and heated so that the cable measuring and spooling

    device will not ice-up, and batteries will deliver their rated voltage.

            Temperature. Temperature logs of wells commonly are used for locating

    top of cement behind casing, depth of gas-producing formations, and determining

    the temperature of producing formations. Also, in northern Alaska, they are

    used for determining the depth of permafrost.

            Electrical resistance thermometers are used for most deep well d s urveys.

    Maximum registering thermometers are used when only the maximum temperature in

    the hole needs to be known.

            Temperature gradient varies with depth, and from place to place. Near the

    arctic coast, in the vicinity of Cape Simpson, the reciprocal gradient from

    50 to 900 ft. (approximate bane of permafrost) is approximately 53 ft. per

    degree Fahrenheit; from 900 to 6,200 ft. , it is approximately 43 ft. per degree

    Fahrenheit. At Umiat, on the Colville River and 80 miles south of the arctic

    008      |      Vol_IIB-0396                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Folk: Deep Well Logging

    coast, the reciprocal gradient from 100 to 900 ft. (approximate base of

    permafrost) is approximately 63 ft. per degree Fahrenheit; from 900 to 6,200 ft.,

    it is approximately 72 ft. per degree Fahrenheit. The difference is thermal

    gradient is related to geological structure. Near Cape Simpson, where the

    gradient is high, the sedimentary section is relatively thin, the structurally

    complex “basement” zone occurring at a depth of about 6,500 ft. At Umiat,

    on the other hand, the sedimentary section is believed to be extremely thick,

    possibly 20,000 ft. or more, and the “basement” complex correspondingly very


            Temperature measurements made in a number of core holes, ranging from a

    few hundred feet to more than 1,000 ft. in depth, and in several deep wells

    have indicated that the 32°F. isotherm (representing the bottom of the

    permafrost zone by definition) generally occurs at a depth between 900 and

    1,000 ft. in northern Alaska. Measurements have shown considerable variation

    in thermal gradient within the permafrost zone, both with depth and from

    place to place. Such variations undoubtedly result in part from alteration

    of the natural thermal regime by the process of drilling, heat transfer by

    conduction through steel casing left in some holes, and heat transfer by

    convection through air in holes left empty and through fluid in holes left

    full of oil But some variation probably occurs naturally as a result of

    different types of formation and geological structure.

            Rate of Penetration . The amount of time required to drill or core a

    specific depth interval, usually one foot, is recorded continuously as

    drilling and/or coring progresses. As a general rule, permeable formations,

    which may produce oil, are penetrated at a faster rate than nonpermeable

    formations, which will not produce oil; consequently, the rate of penetration

    009      |      Vol_IIB-0397                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Folk: Deep Well Logging

    log assist s in distinguishing between possible oil-producing and nonproductive

    strata encountered in a well. This log must be used with considerable caution,

    however, because some oil-bearing formations are firmly cemented and are

    penetrated at a slower rate than adjacent shales that contain no oil. Also,

    there are numerous other variable factors such as the character of the drilling

    fluid, condition of the drilling bit, and weight applied to the drilling bit

    that affect the rate of penetration and may make the log misleading.

            Seismic Velocity . The velocity of seismic waves through different strata

    is determined by detonating a charge of explosive at a short distance from the

    well and measuring the travel time from the point of propagation to a detector

    in the well bore. This is repeated a number of times with the detector

    suspended at different depths. Data so obtained are used in computing the

    results of seismic exploration for possible oil-bearing structures, and in

    correlating seismic and geological information. This subject is discussed in

    more detail in “Seismograph and Gravity Meter Operations.”


    Stewart H. Folk

    Development of Oil Fields in Canada's North

    001      |      Vol_IIB-0398                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (E. M. McVeity)


            The earliest recorded oil discovery in Canada was made in the northern

    part, when Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the explorer, in 1789, noted the presence

    of oil seepages near Fort Norman, Northwest Territories, and stated that the

    Indians in the district were using an oil residue gathered from pools to

    smear their canoes. However, it was not until long after the construction

    of the first transcontinental railroad, in 1885, which brought facilities

    within reachable distance of the water arteries of the Arctic that the possi–

    bilities of the northern oil deposits were investigated.

            By the turn of the twentieth century, the C D ominion Government Geological

    Department had carried out many surveys in the Northwest Territories. But it

    has been pointed out by an independent geologist that “when the vastness of

    the area is realized it is no depreciation of the Department to say that the

    results of its surveys extending over a quarter of a century were valuable

    but fragmentary. One little corner of any one of the four western provinces

    would have been sufficient to keep the entire Government force busy for a

    decade and then the knowledge gained would not have been complete.”

            So, it was on almost virgin territory that geologists went to work, in

    1914, under Dr. T. O. Bosworth, chief geologist of Imperial Oil Limited, who

    began a reconnaissance that ultimately extended from the international

    002      |      Vol_IIB-0399                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. McVeity : Oil in Canada

    boundary to Fort Norman, approximately 90 air miles south of the Arctic

    Circle. This resulted in the definite pinning down and pegging of certain

    specific possibilities.

            In a report upon oil possibilities, Dr. Bosworth said of the Mackenzie

    River region:

            “Passing northward from the Great Slave Lake, indications of oil are

    found in many places. Some of the chief seepages occur in the country beyond

    Fort Norman where, throughout an extensive region, the Devonian consists of

    deposits very favorable for the formation of oil.

            “Here we have 300 feet of black bituminous limestones, upon which rest

    300 feet of black bituminous shales. The shales smell very strongly of oil

    and in places there are large cliffs of them which are now undergoing com–

    bustion on the surface. This bituminous series is overlain by a series of

    clay-shales and sandstones and it is in these sandstones that the oil occurs.

    The structure also is favorable, for the strata are folded into large anti–

    clines which are suitable for the accumulation of oil.”

            But it was not until after the close of World War I that Imperial Oil

    sent drillers to operate in the area. Of nine drilling parties which were

    sent to Alberta and Saskatchewan, in 1919, one went to the southern part of

    Great Slave Lake, and one went to a location on Oil Creek, now named Bosworth

    Creek, about 45 miles north of Fort Norman on the lower Mackenzie. A short

    season and ill luck hindered progress but a camp was prepared, a boiler

    installed, and a derrick erected. While many of the drilling crews returned

    to the south, a party of seven men remained to winter at Bosworth Creek.

    003      |      Vol_IIB-0400                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

            On July 8, 1920, this little band of men welcomed Dr. T. A. Link,

    Imperial Oil geologist, and six men who had traversed the 2,000 miles from

    the Peace River to Norman Wells. Dr. Link brought with him more drilling

    equipment and it was immediately set up. In August 1920, oil was struck

    and the well produced 100 barrels per day from a depth of less than 800

    feet. This well was capped until the following year.

            After this initial success, exploration was stepped up. Imperial Oil

    was the first oil company in Canada and one of the first in North America

    to make use of airplane transportation in prospecting. In 1921, Imperial

    used two Junker all-metal monoplanes to transport geologists and surveyors

    to Fort Norman, and to fly over the fringes of the Arctic in the most northerly

    oil search on the continent to date.

            In 1921, Dr. Link returned by air to the Norman Wells area. This same

    year a small still, capable of making gasoline and diesel fuel, was installed.

    It supplied fuel oil to the missions along the Mackenzie and produced small

    quantities of gasoline for the benefit of the few fishermen and trappers

    around Fort Norman.

            On June 29, 1924, another Imperial Oil expedition arrived at the site

    of the discovery well camp, on the Mackenzie River, and again drilled for

    oil. This was a most successful venture and increased the number of wells

    in the area to six, three of which were producers.

            In 1925, Norman Wells refinery was shut down as there was no local use

    for its products and transport costs were too high to warrant shipping

    products to other areas.

            With the discovery of rich silver- and radium-bearing ores in the early

    thirties in the vicinity of Great Bear Lake, the wells at Norman Wells were

    004      |      Vol_IIB-0401                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

    again opened. River traffic had mounted, so the refining plant was again

    put in operation to provide gasoline for the river boats and fuel oil for

    the diesel engines at the mining d c enter.

            In 1937, in order to save transshipment of the fuel oil cargoes, it

    was found necessary to build a short pip e line from the Norman Wells refinery

    for a distance of eight and a half miles. At that time it was hailed as

    the most northerly pipeline in the world.

            With the rapid development of mining operations in the Northwest

    Territory, the demand for petroleum fuels steadily increased. High-grade

    aviation and diesel fuels were essential to both mining and air transportation,

    and to meet these growing requirements, Imperial built a large and modern

    refinery, in 1939, at Norman Wells, 53 miles north of Fort Norman, to replace

    the old one. This refinery operated three months in the year, and now (1949)

    has a capacity of 1,500 barrels per stream day.

            Problems born of remoteness and restricted transportation made

    construction of the Fort Norman refinery a unique feat. At that time the

    maximum weight and size of loads movable on the Mackenzie by water carriers

    was 10 tons with over-all crated dimensions of 10 feet by 35 feet. As

    facilities for field work at the site were at a minimum, the equipment had

    to be shop-fabricated to the maximum size of each piece. These pieces were

    bolted together at the site. Because of the high freight rate, a minimum

    amount of cement and brickwork was used in the construction of the plant.

            The glacial frost in that area penetrates to a depth of 140 feet and an

    ingenious method was used to prevent heaving after grading and preparing the

    foundation sites for the equipment. During the short summer season, the

    arctic ground thaws only to a depth of about 12 inches, so this upper layer

    005      |      Vol_IIB-0402                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

    was scraped off and the operation was held up until six to eight inches

    more ground thawed out. Top soil was borrowed and the required area was

    raised above the general surface grade. A drainage pit was dug around the

    area and filled with river boulders to prevent surface water from entering

    the foundation area.

            The Mackenzie River has a normal rise and fall of six feet, but ice

    may be pushed 40 feet above the normal waterline. To offset this, pipelines,

    water pumps, etc., were installed above the ice-action line. Docks and pump

    houses were built on skids so they could be moved to a safe location each

    fall. Despite these obstacles, it took only 30 days to erect the refinery.

            Production from the field had reached 20,191 barrels a year by 1939,

    when the eighth well was drilled at Fort Norman.

            The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, was the

    signal for unprecedented activity in the Canadian northwest. Anticipating

    an enemy invasion by way of Alaska, the U.S. Government with the active

    cooperation of the Canadian authorities rushed through plans for a military

    supply route from Edmonton to Fairbanks. It took the form of a highway that

    would also serve a string of airports established earlier in the year by the

    two countries. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was assigned to the task and

    the first troops to arrive on the project - the 35th Engineer Regiment –

    landed by rail at Dawson Creek on March 9, 1942, in −30°F. weather.

            The regiment had to be moved fast as it was important to get them into

    an inland point, Fort Nelson, 325 miles from Dawson Creek, while the winter

    trail across the muske y g was frozen and passable. In this way they could

    start building the road to the west, toward Watson Lake, without delay.

    Fort Nelson had always been inaccessible after the trail broke up under the

    006      |      Vol_IIB-0403                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

    spring thaws, and getting the 35th Regiment in was the key to completion of

    the whole project in one season.

            Imperial Oil played an important part in this move, as it was necessary

    to put sufficient stocks of fuel, oil, and grease into Fort Nelson to keep

    the troops supplied until the pioneer road was broken through between that

    point and Fort St. John. Imperial had thousands of barrels made, rushed them

    into Dawson Creek from Sarnia, filled them, and turned them over to the Army.

    Two orders alone filled by Imperial totaled approximately one million gallons

    of fuel. This was put in cache at Fort Nelson and supplied the 35th Regiment

    when it arrived.

            Because Imperial Oil was the only company to produce oil in the Northwest

    Territories in commercial quantity, and had acquired considerable knowledge of

    working conditions there, the U.S. Army asked the company to discuss the possi–

    bilities of increasing the production of oil in the Fort Norman area. That

    was in April 1942, about four months after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.

            The Army urgently required a greater supply of oil in that area. They

    proposed to transport this crude by pipeline to the vicinity of Whitehorse,

    where a refinery would be built. This was a practical plan because the crude

    produced at Norman Wells remains fluid at temperatures far below freezing ( −70°F. ), enclose in parenthesis (−70°F.),

    and it lends itself to transportation by pipeline under arctic conditions.

    Furthermore, crude can be produced the year around from these wells.

            Imperial Oil placed its full knowledge, facilities, and experience at

    the disposal of the U.S. War Department and the U.S. Government contracted

    with the company to increase the production of crude from Imperial Oil leases

    at Norman Wells.

    007      |      Vol_IIB-0404                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

            Imperial O o i l took charge of the operation, locating necessary drilling

    equipment, finding and organizing personnel, and arranging for transportation.

    River transport, then the only way to get most of the heavy equipment to the

    drilling sites, opens about June 15 and closes in September. The equipment

    required not only had to be found, but delivered within a few weeks to the

    railhead more than 300 miles north of Edmonton.

            Some idea of the speed with which this project was carried out may be

    gained from the fact that, within two months of the original discussion in

    w W ashington, Imperial had begun drilling on the first of the new wells, and

    drilling operations never were held up because of lack of material on the

    ground. In addition to the ordinary supply and transport difficulties in

    obtaining drilling equipment of all kinds and locating suitable personnel in

    Canada and the U.S.A. under wartime conditions, the personnel and equipment

    had to be transported for thousands of miles into the northern wilderness,

    using railroads, trucks, airplanes, and river craft.

            Drilling operations in the area were carried out continuously from

    July 1942 until March 1947, and it was the first time such operations were

    carried out through the rigors of a north Canadian winter. Winter tempera–

    tures in the region reached −70°F. Sixteen wells were drilled by the end

    of 1942, sufficient to supply the full original production of crude desired

    by the U.S. Army. Altogether 63 wells were drilled in the vicinity of the

    original Imperial operations; of this number, 59 were productive and 4 were

    dry holes.

            Actual drilling of the wells provided additional data on the probable

    oil reserves existing at Fort Norman. At first considered to consist of

    only a few million barrels, it is now estimated that the field may exceed

    30,000,000 barrels.

    008      |      Vol_IIB-0405                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

            The operations proved that the oil was not obtained from the shale bodies,

    as originally thought, but from a limestone roof formation below the shale,

    which put a more hopeful aspect on the possibility of wider development. An

    area of 4,010 acres, of which 1,870 acres underlie the Mackenzie River , has

    been proved as productive. Owing to the ice conditions, about 1,400 acres

    will be inaccessible to the drill.

            While drilling operations were going on at Norman Wells, the U.S. Army and

    contractors overcame hardships and numerous obstacles to put the Alaska Highway

    ( q.v .) “on duty” by the fall of 1943. It is an all-weather highway extending

    1,523 miles, of which 1,222 miles are in Canada and the balance in Alaska.

    Some idea of the terrain covered may be grasped from the fact that the highway

    includes 629 permanent-type bridges. These are mostly steel and concrete,

    but some are large, treated timber trestles. Two are suspension types; one

    of them is the $1,750,000 Peace River bridge.

            Major airports were constructed at intervals of approximately 300 miles

    and emergency landing strips at about every 100 miles. The U.S. Army also

    established relay stations on the highway at intervals of 100 miles. These

    were designed and operated to give transient traffic on the highway complete

    service on equipment and to provide hotel service for the men.

            During construction, delivery of approximately 50,000 gal. of fuel daily

    was maintained to the highway contractors alone. Since the greater part of

    the work was being done beyond Fort Nelson, Imperial completed from 80 to 85

    per cent of the delivery over roads under construction and across river barriers,

    such as the Peace, the Muskwa, and the Liard, between 300 and 665 miles from

    Dawson Creek, the railhead point of supply. For the construction period,

    Imperial, using as many as 483 trucks, supplied and delivered from the railhead

    009      |      Vol_IIB-0406                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

    approximately 20,000,000 gal. of fuel, 1,500,000 gal. of lubricating oil,

    and 1,000,000 lb. of grease.

            While the Alaska Highway, or the “Alcan” as it was first called, was

    being built, another large U.S. Army project got under way. This was the

    Canol (a word coined from Canada and oil) project ( q.v .) which included the

    construction of a pipeline between Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River to

    Whitehorse, a distance of approximately 565 miles.

            In order to lay this pipeline, it was first necessary to build a road

    for access. This was through an uncharted and unmapped wilderness, through

    muskeg and over several high mountain ranges. The work was undertaken from

    both ends by civilian contractors under the U.S. Army engineers. A 4-inch

    pipeline was also laid from Whitehorse to Skagway, 110 miles, beside the White

    Pass and Yukon Railway in order that tankers could be brought into Skagway

    and the oil pumped through to Whitehorse to supply both the U.S. Army and

    their contractors.

            To tap this supply, a 2-inch pipeline was laid from Carcross to Watson

    Lake, 265 miles away. This was used to supply contractors along the highway

    as well as those at Watson Lake and the USAAF for the requirements of aviation

    products. A 3-inch pipeline was also laid from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, 605

    miles away. This was used to supply interior Alaska and the contractors along

    the highway with their requirements of refined products.

            To help feed this system of pipelines, a refinery was purchased in Corpus

    Christi, Texas, dismantled, and, along with additional parts from both Canada

    and the United States, it was laboriously transported by rail, boat, and over

    the Alaska Highway to a site at Whitehorse. After the war the refinery

    remained idle until it was purchased by Imperi la al Oil from U.S. war-surplus

    010      |      Vol_IIB-0407                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

    stores in 1947, and was again dismantled and moved to a site at Edmonton.

    Re-erected there on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, it began

    processing crude from the Leduc field in the summer of 1948.

            Today a measure of the growth of the mining, trapping, fishing, and

    transportation industries in this region may be observed in the increase

    in oil production at Norman Wells. In 1939, production from the field was

    18,155 barrels whereas in 1946 it had increased to 181,408 barrels. In

    1938, sales including Norman Wells production amounted to 1,000,000 gal.

    and in 1948, sales including Norman Wells production were approximately

    8,000,000 gal. Most of this was consumed by the mining industry e c entered

    around Great Slave and Great Bear lakes.

            With the exception of the community at Norman Wells, the majority of

    Imperial’s distributing depots are located at sites which were already

    developed in the form of trading posts or mining communities. In addition

    to the refinery, Norman Wells consists of company-owned bunkhouses, offices,

    community hall, hospital, and other buildings constructed for the personnel

    who operate the plant.

            The majority of products consumed in the Northwest Territories is

    supplied from the refinery at Norman Wells. From this point products by

    barge and river boat, and in some cases short pipelines are laid around

    rapids. The climate is a limiting factor in transportation of products.

    In the winter tractor trains are sometimes used.

            Certain products not made at Norman Wells refinery are shipped by

    rail to Waterways, in northern Alberta, and then by barge and boat to the

    point of use. Roads other than the Alaska Highway are few and far between

    but new road construction is speeding delivery of products by tank truck in

    011      |      Vol_IIB-0408                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

    some instances. In addition to these means of transportation, aircraft is

    also employed. In February and March 1948, more than 4,000 drums of petroleum

    products were transported by air.

            Imperial’s most northern bulk agency is at Aklavik, on the delta of the

    Mackenzie, which is well within the Arctic Circle. The company’s first

    agency to serve the North was opened at Draper, near Waterways, in 1920.

    s S ome products such as lubricants may travel nearly 1,600 miles down the

    Mackenzie from the railhead at Waterways.

            In addition to the agency at Aklavik, Imperial also operates bulk agencies

    at Waterways and Fort Fitzgerald in northern Alberta; and at Fort Smith, Yellowknife,

    and Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories. Imperial also ships products from

    Norman Wells to such widely-scattered settlements as Fort Providence on the

    Mackenzie River; Holman Island, Reid Island, and Coppermine in the western

    Arctic; and to Bathurst Inlet in the eastern Arctic. The area served covers

    approximately one million square miles.

            During the war, Imperial Oil cooperated with the government in the develop–

    ment of special fuels, lubricants, hydraulic fluids, etc., for use under the con–

    ditions existing in the Far North. Since the war Imperial has assisted in the

    fueling and lubricating of equipment used in the military operations Eskimo,

    Lemming, and Muskox. A company representative was present at all three

    operations to assist in any fuel or lubrication problem which might arise.

            Petroleum products play an important part in the development of the North.

    Aviation, transportation, mining, lumbering, and road-building operations in

    that part of the world are largely dependent upon oil and it has been called

    “the life blood of the north . ” Imperial Oil Limited in keeping pace without

    012      |      Vol_IIB-0409                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Oil in Canada

    with a growing nation has rendered every possible assistance in the establish–

    ment of supply points to help in the development and expansion in Canada’s



    E. M. McVeity

    Geology of the Athabaska Bituminous Sands

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0410                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (G. S. Hume)




    Character of the Area 1
    Stratigraphy 2
    Baleozoic Formations 3
    McMurray Formation 5
    Bitumen Content of the McMurray Formation 8
    Bibliography 10

    001      |      Vol_IIB-0411                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (G. S. Hume)




    Character of the Area

            Bituminous sands outcrop in northern Alberta in an area the center

    of which is Fort McMurray, 300 miles north of Edmonton. The country in

    the vicinity of Fort McMurray comprises an upland area covered by sand

    ridges and glacial deposits of variable thickness, with the lower-lying

    areas occupied by muskegs and lakes. All the country is covered by trees,

    mostly poplar, birch, spruce, pine, and various other varieties. In some

    places the tree growth has been good, resulting in excellent stands of timber

    with jack pine occupying the sand ridges. In other areas, particularly those

    covered by muskeg, the trees are small and sparse, and the country may be

    comparatively open with scrub brush.

            The rivers and streams are deeply dissected into the upland area and,

    from 42 miles above McMurray to 76 miles below it on the Athabaska River,

    outcrops of bituminous sands occur at various intervals. Similar outcrops

    are present on the tributary streams. In the vicinity of Fort McMurray, the

    banks of the main drainage courses are high and steep, and bituminous sands,

    more than 100 feet thick, are exposed in numerous places with the undulating

    underlying Devonian limestones a rising 30 feet or less above the Athabaska

    River level. To the north and east, the bituminous sand deposit thins toward

    002      |      Vol_IIB-0412                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands

    the edge of the pre-Cambrian Shield, whereas to the south and west, the

    southwest regional dip carries the bituminous sands below a progressively

    heavier cover of younger strata until the sands disappear below the river




            The stratigraphic succession in the Athabaska area is listed in Table I.

    Table I.
    Age Formation Thickness, ft. Description
    Lower Cretaceous Pelican Shale 90 Black marine shales
    Grand Rapids 280 Mainly sandstones:

    upper part with thin

    coal seams; lower part

    marine with large

    Clearwater 275 Soft gray and dark

    shales, gray and green

    sandstones; marine
    McMurray 110 to 250 Sands and sandstones,

    thin conglomerate beds,

    clay and shale beds:

    partly impregnated with

    Erosional unconfromity
    Devonian Waterways 550 or

    Limestones and limy

    shales; salt and

    anhydrite beds
    Silurian 300 Dolomites, limestones,

    and shales

    003      |      Vol_IIB-0413                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands


    Baleozoic Formations

            The Paleozoic beds were deposited on the unevenly eroded surface

    of the pre- c C ambrian. According to Sproule (4) the oldest Paleozoic rocks

    are Silurian. In drilling for salt at Fort McMurray and a few miles from

    it, at Waterways, the Paleozoic succession in one well consisted of 493 feet

    of gray limestones and shales which from their fossil content are Upper

    Devonian in age, underlain by 200 feet of anhydrite and 200 feet of salt

    beds. Sproule considered these salt and anhydrite beds to be Silurian as

    this was the general conception since salt is known to occur in the area

    near Fort Smith, 235 miles north of Fort McMurray, and Kindle found Silurian

    beds also in that area. The anhydrite beds that outcrop at Peace Point on

    Peace River, south v w est of Lake Athabaska, have also been generally considered

    to be Silurian. Doubt has recently been thrown on this suggested age for the

    salt and anhydrite in the Fort McMurray area by the discovery of sal f t beds,

    up to 1,000 feet thick, in wells in the area east of Edmonton where Upper

    Devonian strata lie a b oth above and below the salt. Obviously, therefore,

    this salt is Upper Devonian and from its known extent it is believed it

    lies in a salt basin which could include the Fort McMurray area. The salt

    at Fort McMurray, therefore, may be Upper Devonian also although no actual

    proof of age is at present available.

            The age of the salt and anhydrite beds is important in relation to

    theories of origin which have been postulated for the bitumen in the bituminous

    sands. Now that large quantities of oil have been found in the Edmonton area

    in Upper Devonian strata, many geologists have confirmed their belief that

    the bituminous sands are impregnated with residue oil derived from the Devonian.

    Other geologists, however, affirm with equal conviction that the bitumen is

    004      |      Vol_IIB-0414                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands

    original as such and came from a source in the Lower Cretaceous in close

    proximity to the sands in which it now occurs. Also the supposed wide–

    spread extent of the salt and anhydrite beds and associated shales with

    differential settling may have a bearing on the undulating surface of the

    Upper Devonian beds on which the bituminous sands were deposited. Along

    the Athabaska River in the vicinity and north of Fort McMurray, the Devonian

    beds dip gently, rising in gentle arches above the river level, and again

    disappearing below the water surface. Dips up to 25 degrees to 30 degrees

    are known on the steep ends of asymmetrical folds but commonly only gentle

    dips of a few degrees occur.

            At the top of the Upper Devonian Waterways limestones, there is, in

    places, a finely brecciated limestone with gray and pink limestone fragments

    in a deeper red calcareous clay matrix. It is inferred from this that the

    limestone was finely broken during a period of erosion and has been recomented.

    In other places the upper beds are gray, limy clays grading downward into

    limestone beds. In still other places, noncalc e a rous and semirefractory

    clays rest in sharp con r t act on the limestones and are interstratified with

    the overlying bituminous sands. Obviously, therefore, these semirefractory

    clays are part of the McMurray formation in which the bituminous sands occur

    and are Lower Cretaceous in age. About 14 miles below Fort McMurray or two

    miles below Stony Island, there is an exposure of 10 feet of clay in sharp

    contact with Devonian limestones. Above the clay there are one to two feet

    of grit with pebbles, mostly the size of peas, but up to three-quarters of

    an inch in diameter. This pebble zone is overlain by bituminous sands. This

    clay is consi k d ered to be part of the McMurray formation since it is similar

    to clays elsewhere that are interstratified with bituminous sands. These

    005      |      Vol_IIB-0415                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands

    clays, in places, contain fragments of wood and other carbona e c eous material.

    At the a A basand plant, a few miles from Fort McMurray, the bituminous sand

    deposit is underlain by 22 feet of clay presumably also of Lower Cretaceous

    age. There is thus a sharp distinction between clays that rest on the

    Devonian limestones and are residual, resulting from weathering, and clays

    that are a part of the Lower Cretaceous succession.


    McMurray Formation

            As already indicated, the McMurray formation resting on the undulating Paleozoic

    surface is Lower Cretaceous in age. It consists in the Fort McMurray area

    of fine sands interstratified with clay and shale beds. The grit or fine

    conglomerate in the outcrop near Stony Island is apparently only developed

    locally. Ells (2) reports that on Firebag River “smooth rounded pebbles having

    a maximum diameter of six inches but with an average diameter of two inches

    are associated with bituminous sand strata,” and that in places, “the pebbles

    almost entirely replace the bituminous sand, forming a conglomerate cemented

    together with bitumen.” Such beds with small pebbles have also been en–

    countered in drilling at various places so that although the occurrences are

    local, they are by no means uncommon.

            The feature of the McMurray formation is the alternation of bitumen–

    impregnated sand beds with clay and shale beds of varying thickness. Consider–

    able core drilling has been done in a number of areas both in the vicinity of

    the Abasand plant, near Fort McMurray, and in areas along the Athabaska River,

    for more than 50 miles north. There is no consistency whatever in the per–

    centage relationship of clay to sand beds between deposits in different areas,

    nor is there any close relationship in cores taken in holes at quarter-mile

    006      |      Vol_IIB-0416                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands

    intervals. The amount of bitumen in the sands is also highly variable up

    to a m e a ximum content of 17 to 18 per cent by weight, which approaches the

    theoretical limit of expectancy where sand grains are loos e ly in contact with

    one another.

            In the Mildred-Ruth lakes area (3), 22 miles north of Fort McMurray,

    cores were taken which showed bitumen beds with a low sand content between

    highly impregnated sand beds. The maximum content of bitumen in one hole

    was in the central part of a bitumen bed, 21 feet thick, where the grade was

    83.2 per cent by weight on a water-free basis. Other beds, less thick, con–

    tained 50 to 75 per cent by weight, with a water content from 9 to 24 per cent.

    Bitumon beds occurred in 39 of 72 holes drilled in the Mildred-Ruth lakes

    area with a number of holes containing more than one such bed. In this area,

    high-grade bituminous sands, as much as 229 feet thick, occurred in one hole

    and it has been calculated that in an area of 4½ square miles that was drilled

    on 1/8- and 1/4-mile spaced holes, there are approximately 900 million

    barrels of bitumen.

            In some of the outcrops of bituminous sands, the sand beds are relatively

    massive and show cross-bedding on a very large scale. This suggests the

    fore-set beds of a deltaic or alluvial fan deposit and this interpretation

    is reasonably suppor t ed by other evidence from the deposit. For example,

    drilling has revealed that particularly on the west side of the Athabaska

    River, in the Mildred-Ruth lakes area, that is, presumably in the direction

    of the western edge of the deposit, there are beds of marine shale containing

    Foraminifera interstratified with the bituminous sand and clay beds. It is

    suspected t a h at toward the west edge of the deltaic deposit the sand beds

    w a e dge out into marine shales. Normally at Fort McMurray and even on the east

    007      |      Vol_IIB-0417                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands

    side of the Athabaska River, opposite the Mildred-Ruth lakes deposit, marine

    Clearwa t ter shales overlie the bituminous sands. On the edge of the deltaic

    McMurray formation, it is presumed that marine shales, similar to the

    Clearwater shales but older in age than those overlying the bituminous sands,

    are contemporaneous with the McMurray beds.

            In drilling in the Mildred-Ruth lakes area, the proportion of clay to

    sand in the McMurray formation increases westward but, since the formation

    is so variable, it is unknown whether this has regional or only local signi–

    ficance although it can be interpreted as indicating close proximity to the

    west edge of the deltaic McMurray deposit. Also to the west, in one hole,

    is a lignite bed one foot thick was found associated with clay bands inter–

    fringing with bituminous sands. It seems logical to conclude from this

    evidence that in periods of relative quiescence the clay beds accumulated,

    and that in periods of more vigorous current action the sand beds were laid

    down alternating with the clay beds. The lignitic material is an accumulation

    of carbonaceous debris close to the strand line because marine beds also occur

    in the succession immediately above the lignite.

            Some other features of the bituminous sands are worthy of note. For

    example, each sand grain is surrounded by a film of moisture around which the

    bitumen has been deposited. The bitumen is a coating separating the sand

    grains rather than a pore space filling. The clay bands are present in all

    deposits and are sufficiently impervious, so that it is impossible to believe

    there could have been migration of oil through them. Also the sand beds are

    so lenticular that it is difficult to understand how they could become impreg–

    nated with oil after deposition of the whole deposit. The inference is, therefore,

    that the bitumen seems to have been practically, if not wholly, contemporaneous

    008      |      Vol_IIB-0418                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands

    with the deposition of the sands although such a conclusion raises many

    problems of the origin of the bitumen. It should not be concluded that

    all sand lenses within the deposit are impregnated with bitumen.

            According to Sproule, there are large “islands” some of them of con–

    siderable extent that are barren. Also, although in a general way, it is

    true that the medium-grained massive and the coarsely cross-bedded strata

    are more highly impregnated with bitumen than the finer-grained parts of

    the deposits, there are numerous exceptions. As a matter of fact much of

    the sand of the deposit is relatively fine. In the area between Cottonwood

    Creek and the Saskatchewan boundary on Clearwater River, the McMurray sands

    contain no oil and are white. There are no significant features to this

    part of the deposit aside from the occurrence of the bitumen that is different

    from the impregnated sands. From the standpoint of distribution of bitumen,

    it may be significant that at the eastern boundary of the bitumenous sands on

    Cottonwood Creek, the upper beds only (not the lower beds) are impregnated

    with bitumen. There can be little doubt that the materials for the McMurray

    formation came from the pre-Cambrian Shield to the east as a sedimentary

    analysis has revealed many minerals that are readily destructible and hence

    must be derived from a nearby source and these actually occur in the granites

    and other pre-Cambrian rocks on the east edge of the deposit.


    Bitumen Content of the McMurray Formation

            Many estimates have been made as to the amount of bitumen in the

    McMurray formation. To make these estimates it is necessary to make assumptions

    as to the size of the deposit and its average bitumen content, neither of which

    is known. By fortuitous circumstances, the Athabaska River seems to have cut

    009      |      Vol_IIB-0419                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands

    through the main part of the bituminous sands and this may give an impression

    of larger extent than is justified. However, there is no doubt that the

    impregnated sands do occur over several thousand square miles and that billions

    of barrels of bitumen may well be present. Estimates vary from 100 to 250

    billion according to the assumptions made, but it is certainly true, as

    Ball (1) points out, that the area of accessible and minable deposits is but

    a small part of the whole area.

            Many local areas of rich sands can be found but the largest deposit

    outlined by drilling and which is under a light overburden is that in the

    Mildred-Ruth lakes area where, as already stated about 900 million barrels

    occur in 4½ square miles. An equally rich deposit, of which the extent has

    not been determined, occurs at Bitumont, 50 miles north of Fort McMurray,

    where the Alberta government plant is located. Other areas, like that at

    the former Abasand plant on Horse River, south of Fort McMurray, are confined

    within the limits of the river valley with banks rising st t e eply from river-cut

    terraces for a couple of hundred feet and with the bituminous sands overlain

    by Clearwater shales and glacial deposits of variable thickness. As already

    indicated, the deposits dip southwest from Fort McMurray and become pro–

    gressively covered by thicker deposits of younger beds until they disappear

    below river level. Areas of rich deposits with small overburden are, there–

    fore, the exception rather than the rule, and these are the areas that

    probably will first be exploited commercially.

    010      |      Vol_IIB-0420                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Hume: Geology of Athabaska Bituminous Sands


    1. Ball, M.W. “Athabaska oil sands: apparent example of local origin of oil,”

    Amer. Ass. Petrol.Geol. Bull . vol.19, no.2, pp. [ ?] 153-71, Feb., 1935.

    2. Ells, S.C. Bituminous Sands of Northern Alberta . Ottawa, Acland, 1926,

    p.17. Canada. Dept. of Mines. Mines Branch. Report no.632.

    3. Hume, G.S. “Results and significance of drilling operations in the

    Athabaska bituminous sands,” Canad. Inst. Min. Metall. Trans . vol.50,

    pp.298-333, 1947.

    4. Sproule, J.C. “Origin of the McMurray oil sands, Alberta,” Amer.Ass.Petrol.

    Geol., Bull . vol.22, p.1134, 1938.


    G.S. Hume

    Development of Bituminous Sands of Northern Alberta

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IIB-0421                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (K. A. Clark)




    Drilling 2
    Road Material 2
    Research Council of Alberta 3
    Hot Water Separation Process 4
    Oil Sands Ltd. 5
    Abasand Oils Ltd. 6
    World War II 8
    Abasand Plant Under Federal Management 9
    Provincial Government Separation Plant 10
    Exploration by Core Drilling 12
    In Situ Methods of Oil Recovery 12
    Bibliography 16

    001      |      Vol_IIB-0422                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (K. A. Clark)



            Bituminous sands are an inescapable challenge to man’s ingenuity and

    enterprise and there can be no rest until the challenge has been met. The

    great cliffs of oil-soaked sand along scores of miles of the Athabaska

    River flaunt their prodigious store or oil before the eyes of all who pass

    by. During pioneer days there was little that anyone could do about the

    challenge. The region was remote, and accessible only with difficulty. The

    oil was low grade and the demand for petroleum was being satisfied from

    advantageous sources elsewhere; the oil occurred inertly mixed with sand and

    no satisfactory means for separating and winning the oil was obvious. This

    situation has been changing with the march of years. The northern frontier

    has advanced to Great Slave Lake and well-organized commercial traffic flows

    regularly up and down the Athabaska River past the bituminous sands. The

    demand for petroleum has grown enormously and all potential sources of

    supply have become increasingly significant. Study of the bituminous sands

    has increased the understanding of them and of how their oil content can be

    recovered. Throughout the years there have been those who thought that

    economic conditions along with their own special insight into the problem

    had combined to make it possible to meet the challenge of the bituminous

    sands. Each peak of the business cycle provided some opportunity for these

    people to make their try. But the challenge still stands. Possibly more

    002      |      Vol_IIB-0423                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark:Development of Bituminous Sands

    time must pass before the need for oil and the understanding of how to get

    it from the bituminous sands will be sufficiently propitious for a success–

    ful assault upon it.

            Drilling . The first attempt to open the way for bituminous sand develop–

    ment was made by the Geological Survey of Canada. Its geologists had con–

    cluded that the oil content of the sands had come from the underlying

    Devonian limestone. They concluded, further, that the vi ci sc ous, asphaltic

    oil in the bituminous sands, as seen in the exposures along the river banks,

    was the residue of a fluid petroleum which had entered the sands from the

    limestone, and whose lighter fractions had been lost by evaporation. It

    followed from this conclusion that if the bituminous sands were entered by

    a bore hole in the region where the sands were still overlaid by consolidated

    rock formations, oil similar to the original fluid petroleum would be found.

    Acting on this reasoning, a well was drilled at Pelican Rapids on the

    Athabaska River, 75 miles southwest of McMurray. The bituminous sands were

    reached after boring through 740 feet of sandstone and shale. The oil con–

    tent of bituminous sand proved to be the same sort of viscous, asphaltic

    material obser b v ed at exposures. A heavy flow of gas was encountered, however.

            This was in 1897-98. During the next few years wells were drilled by

    private parties at locations along the Athabaska River from McMurray northward.

    Some of these wells penetrated the underlying Devonian limestone. The only

    positive result of this activity was the discovery of salt beds in the

    limestone in the vicinity of McMurray. The Dominion Tar and Chemical Company

    established a salt plant at Waterways in 1940.

            Road Material . There has always been a close association, in the public

    mind, between the sticky, asphaltic “tar sands” and highway construction.

    003      |      Vol_IIB-0424                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    This idea was studied by S. C. Ells when he was assigned to bituminous sand

    investigations by the Mines Branch, Federal Department of Mines (now the

    Department of Mines and Resources) in 1913. One of his first projects was

    to bring 60 tons of bituminous sand to Edmonton by sleigh (there was no

    railway to McMurray in those days) and to mix and heat this material with

    appropriate additions of sand and crushed rock to make several grades of

    bituminous aggregate for city pavement. This work was made part of a standard

    sheet asphalt job under way in this city. The pavement is still in service

    and the bituminous sand section is hardly distinguishable from the standard

    surface laid at the same time. Ells laid a second successful pavement in

    Jasper National Park between the station and the Lodge in 1926-27.

            T. Draper organized the McMurray Asphaltum and Oil Company to commercialize

    the use of bituminous sand for road construction. When the railway was com–

    pleted to Waterways in 1922, he opened a quarry alongside the track and

    solicited business in laying the bituminous sands as sidewalks and pavements.

    The enterprise did not thrive. The bituminous sand was not a cheap material

    after being quarried, shipped 300 miles, and quarried a second time from the

    railway cars. Its sand content was too soft and the proportion of sand to

    asphalt was not right. It needed too much “fixing up” to make pavement

    aggregate, and the highway engineers could see no sound reason for departing

    from standard practice in order to use it.

            Research Council of Alberta . The Government of Alberta entered the field

    of bituminous sand investigations in 1920. The Research Council of Alberta

    was organized at that time to facilitate the development of the natural

    resources of the Province by scientific studies. Coal, appropriately, was

    given the top place on the list of resources to be investigated b y u t the

    004      |      Vol_IIB-0425                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    bituminous sands were marked for important attention. Work was started

    promptly and is still continuing. The Research Coun d c il judged that a

    practical method for recovering the oil from the bituminous sand was an

    essential key to their development and that the hot water separation pro–

    cess was the method of recovery that gave the best promise of success. It

    undertook to study this process as applied to the Alberta bituminous sands

    and to elucidate the factors upon which the successful application of the

    process depends.

            Laboratory findings were tested on plant scale. A small plant was

    operated in Edmonton in 1925. It was moved to the north in 1929-30, re–

    erected at a site near Waterways, and operated in a coordinated mining and

    separation plant project carried out jointly by the Federal Department of

    Mines and the Research Council of Alberta. The purpose of the plant was to

    determine whether separation of oil from the bituminous sand by hot water

    washing, as carried out in the laboratory, could be translated into tonnage

    operations. This purpose was achieved with fair success. The depression

    brought a virtual end to the activities of the Coun d c il until 1942, when it

    was resuscitated. Bituminous sand studies were resumed. The separation

    plant completed in 1948 by the Province of Alberta at Bitumount incorporates

    the results of the Council’s work.

            Hot Water Separation Process . The mineral aggregate of Alberta bituminous

    sand consists of quartz particles of 50-mesh size and smaller, along with a

    varying proportion of silty and clayey material. The oil content is a viscous

    asphaltic material with a specific gravity just a little greater than water.

    Bituminous sand with a low silt and clay content is, as a rule, almost

    saturated with oil and water, containing from 10 to 17% oil and from [ ?]

    2 to 8% water by weight.

    005      |      Vol_IIB-0426                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

            Water displaces mineral oil from a quartz surface. Bituminous sand,

    as it lies in its beds, has the oil envelopes separated from the sand-grain

    surfaces by a film of water. In the hot water process, the bituminous sand

    is heated and pulped with water. This is an important operation and the clay

    present is a powerful factor. The clay along with the mechanical work of

    pulping causes the oil to become dispersed in small masses which lie un–

    attached among the sand grains. Clay seems necessary for this action but

    increasing amounts of clay cause an increasing degree of too fin d e dispersion

    of the oil with subsequent loss of recovery.

            On flooding the pulp with hot water, the larger oil masses collect

    together. If air is present, as is the case under almost all practical

    flooding conditions, the oil forms a froth with the air and rises to the

    surface of the water. The practical problem is to suppress available air

    during the flooding as oil-air bubbles float sand. The sand particles sink

    while fine mineral matter and finely dispersed oil remain suspended in the

    plant water. It would appear that there must be about 1% of clay in a bitumi–

    nous sand for the process to work. If a rich sand has from 1 to 4% of clay,

    the yield of oil is between 80 to 90%, but the yield falls off rapidly as

    the clay content increases beyond 4%. If excess aeration is prevented,

    the oil froth has a mineral content of less than 10%. It has a very high

    content of water, however, of the order of 30%. The crude oil froth must

    be treated for removal of both water and mineral matter before it can be

    handled in a refinery.

            Oil Sands Ltd . The Alcan Oil Co. was among those that drilled wells straighten

    along the Athabaska River, following the lead of the Geological Survey of

    Canada. The scene of its activity was on the east side of the river about

    006      |      Vol_IIB-0427                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    60 miles north from McMurray. Its lease was acquired, around 1924, by

    R. C. Fitzsimmons who organized the International Bitumen Co. For some

    years Fitzs u i mmons continued to drill. Then, in 1930, while the Research

    Council of Alberta was operating its experimental separation plant near

    Waterways, he turned to the hot water separation process. During succeed–

    ing years Fitzsimmons struggled with inadequate finances to build up a

    commercial plant. His separation plant and refinery never emerged from the

    elemental stage but his efforts contributed to the fund of practical know–

    ledge in excavating and handling bituminous sand.

            A post office was opened at the International Bitumen Co. plant and

    was named Bitumount. The property was acquired in 1942 by L. R. Champion

    and the name of the company was changed to Oil Sands Ltd. When the provin–

    cial government undertook to build a separation plant, it chose to locate

    it on the Oil Sands Ltd. lease and to enter into partnership with the company.

    Due to failure of Oil Sands Ltd. to meet the financial terms of its agreement

    with the provincial government, the company in 1948 was eliminated from the

    new separation plant project.

            Abasand Oils Ltd . had its beginnings around 1929, centering about three

    men from Denver, Colorado, namely, B. O. Jones, Max W. Ball and J. M. McClave.

    Ball was consultant for the group, while McClave, because of his patents

    and his previous experience with extracting oil from oil sands, contributed

    the technical background for the project. McClave had worked with bituminous

    sand occurring in the western states and had become acquainted with the

    Alberta sands through Ells. Ball got in touch with the Research Council of

    Alberta in 1929. He and McClave visited the Council’s plant near Waterways,

    in 1930, and arranged to take it over.

    007      |      Vol_IIB-0428                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

            Then the depression deranged their plans. Ball strove hard, at personal

    sacrifice, to keep the undertaking alive and succeeded. Headquarters were

    moved from Denver to Toronto. Experimental work was prosecuted there both

    to f g ain information and to interest capital. Negotiations were carried out

    with the government to change the size of a bituminous sand lease from 1,920 to

    3,840 acres. These negotiations were complicated by the change of control,

    at this time, of the Alberta natural resources from the federal to the provin–

    cial government. A. J. Smith of Kansas City, Missouri, joined Ball’s group

    to study the refining of the bituminous-sand oil and to engineer a complete

    plant when one was built.

            As the depression receded, sufficient financial backing was secured to

    proceed with the erection of a plant near McMurray in the Horse River valley.

    The plant was ready for operation in 1940. Then came the problem of exca–

    vating the sand. An Eagle shale planer was tried and proved to be unsatis–

    factory. Wear on the cutting teeth was terrific and breakage of teeth on

    the ironstone nodules, which occurred in unusual quantity in the bituminous

    sand at this location, was prohibitively great. Eventually, a system of

    loosening by powder and excavating by power shovel was evolved.

            The separation plant used the hot water process; it functioned reasonably

    well. There were mechanical difficulties; the oil froth produced was very

    sandy, leading to trouble in the clean-up operation; and consumption of

    heat was high. A scheme for removing water and sand from the crude froth

    was devised. It consisted of cutting the wet oil with a refinery distillate,

    corresponding approximately to kerosene, and of settling the cut or diluted

    oil. Water and mineral matter were removed with sufficient completeness to

    allow charging the settled, diluted oil to the refinery. The “diluent” was

    008      |      Vol_IIB-0429                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    was recovered in the refinery and returned to the separation plant. About

    30,000 barrels of oil were separated from the sands during 1940-41 and were

    processed into a small yield of gasoline, and higher yields of diluent,

    diesel oil, heavy fuel oil, and asphalt residuum. The boilers were fired

    with the residuum and the gasoline was used on the property. The diesel

    oil was cold to the mining companies on Lake Athabaska and Great Slave Lake.

            Much of the plant was destroyed by fire late in 1941. It was rebuilt

    with an enlarged separation plant capacity and was in operation again late

    in the season of 1942.

            World War II . The bituminous sands were “caught up” in the war situation

    at this stage of their story. The Japanese threat was at its height; because

    of it, the United States undertook the S A laska Highway and the Canol pipeline

    projects. A large military camp was established near McMurray as part of

    the latter project. In Canada there was grave concern about supplies of

    aviation gasoline and of fuel oil in the western provinces. It appeared

    that the bituminous sands might have to be used as a source of these fuels if

    it was at all feasible.

            In preparation for this eventuality, the federal government, in 1942,

    started a program of exploration by drilling to prove up a site for a large–

    scale separation plant. It also placed observers at the Abasand plant to

    collect data on which to base judgment as to whether the separation process

    and type of equipment of this plant would serve the purposes of a large, war

    emergency plant. Further, it arranged with Universal Oil Products Company

    for an investigation of the production of aviation gasoline and other products

    from the bituminous-sand oil by modern refining methods. The judgment reached

    in regard to the separation plant was favorable, with reservations. In the

    009      |      Vol_IIB-0430                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    meantime the Japanese threat had receded and the fuel situation had not

    become as critical as feared. The federal government might have dropped

    further consideration of the bituminous sands at this stage. Instead it

    decided to continue , not so much because of the war situation as of the long

    view on oil reserves.

            Abasand Plant Under Federal Management . The federal government took

    over the Abasand plant y early in 1943. The management that was installed at

    the plant included, at first, the key men of the former Abasand organization,

    but these men dropped out for various reasons. Soon the undertaking was in

    the hands of people who, though unquestionably competent in their own lines

    of business, had no background of bituminous sand. A mining engineering

    company was given the task of taking hold of the Abasand plant in dismantled

    condition and of reassembling it in improved engineering fashion to give the

    McClave version of the hot water separation process a thorough trial. The

    company, quite naturally, used ore dressing mill techniques with which it

    was familiar but which, unfortunately, were incompatible with the nature of

    bituminous sand. In spite of the expenditure of large sums of money, the

    plant never got into as good running shape as it was before the government

    took over. Then the company turned to the use of mineral flotation cells.

    This idea had been studied years before by McClave and by the Research Council

    of Alberta, and had been discarded. A disastrous fire in 1945 brought the

    costly muddle to an end. The separation plant and the building that served

    as both warehouse and machine shop were completely destroyed. The power

    plant, refinery, and the town site were undamaged. The equipment in these

    units was gradually sold to private parties who moved it away.

    010      |      Vol_IIB-0431                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

            Provincial Government Separation Plant . The Government of Alberta

    was pleased when the federal government undertook its long-view program

    of bituminous sand study, including costly experimentation at the Abasand

    plant. The work was in the interest of the development of a natural resource

    of the Province. But as the performance at the Abasand plant unfolded, the

    government became uneasy. It was fe w a red that ha mr rm to the cause of bituminous

    sand development would result. The government could not afford to stand by

    idly in the face of this situation, so it decided to sponsor a separation

    plant, in the design, engineering, and management of which it could have confidence.

    For this undertaking, the advice of the Research Council of Alberta was sought

    and used although the Council was not charged with the responsibility. The

    project was launched in 1944 under the direction of a Board of Trustees.

            The site chosen for the plant was at Bitumount on the lease of Oil Sands Ltd.

    where good-grade bituminous sand under favorable conditions for excavation was

    obviously available and where advantage could be taken of the already existing

    camp and plant facilities of the company. The flow sheet of the plant was

    based on the outcome of the studies of the Research Council of Alberta. A

    capacity of 350 barrels per day was decided upon. Advantage of experience

    gained by former plants was taken in deciding on the general design. The

    storage bin and method of feeding bituminous sand from it into the separation

    plant was fashioned after that used by Fitzsimmons in the original plant at

    Bitumount. The Abasand system of freeing the wet crude oil of water and

    retained sand, by mixing it with “diluent” and settling, was adopted. The

    detailed designing was done by the Born Engineering Co. of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

    Construction was delayed by difficulty in obtaining equipment and materials

    and was not completed until the fall of 1948. The project was undertaken [ ae ?]

    011      |      Vol_IIB-0432                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    as a partnership between the Government of Alberta and Oil Sands Ltd.

    However, due to failure of the company to fulfill its financial obligations

    under the agreement, the project was taken over completely by the government.

            The plant was operated successfully during the 1949 season. There was

    trouble in securing operators for the short term of employment offered, and

    enough of them to run the entire plant at once were not obtained. None of

    them, of course, had experience with a bituminous sand separation plant and

    it took several months for them to learn how to keep out of trouble. From

    then on the plant ran smoothly. The plan followed was to run the separation

    plant and dehydrating unit for about a week and then to run the refinery

    (a simple topping unit) for a similar period to recover the diluent. Bitumi–

    nous sand was dug directly from the quarry by power shovel and was transported

    to the storage bin by dump truck. The through o p ut of sand was about 500 tons

    per 24 hours. About 90% of the oil in the bituminous sand was recovered in

    the form of a crude oil, containing about 5% mineral matter and 35% water.

    There was a loss of about 6% of this oil in the dehydrating unit due to the

    formation of a stubborn emulsion which was discarded. The plant was shut

    down at the end of September.

            The operation at Bitumount in 1949 demonstrated that enough is now

    known for the design of a practical, efficient plant for winning oil from

    the bituminous sand by the hot water process. Probably not enough information

    has been obtained for properly estimating the cost of oil produced in this

    way. Possible difficulties with winter operations need examination. The

    bituminous sand in the quarry was getting harder to dig as the weather

    became cooler at the end of the season and the feed delivered to the plant

    was becoming lumpy. Blasting in the quarry and a crushing plant may be

    012      |      Vol_IIB-0433                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    required in wintertime. Further work with the pilot plant will be required

    to get information that is still lacking

            Exploration by Core Drilling . There was another phase of the program

    undertaken by the federal government which worked out much better than

    operations at the Abasand plant. Exploration of the bituminous formation

    by core drilling and core analyses was undertaken. This sort of work had

    been pioneered by Ells years before. An improved technique, using a diamond

    core-cutting bit and drilling mud, speeded up the drilling. About 235 bore

    holes were drilling during 1943-47. The program was started to prove up a

    body of high-grade bituminous sand believed present near Steepbank River,

    on the east side of the Athabaska River about twenty miles north of McMurray,

    and occurring under overburden and other conditions favorable to large-scale

    development by excavation and hot water separation. The body was found and

    delineated. Then the east side of the river was explored by widely spaced

    holes from McMurray north for about sixty miles. Finally operations were

    transferred to the west side of the Athabaska River opposite Steepbank River.

    In this area a body of uniformly good bituminous sand was encountered, 185 feet

    thick under 35 feet of overburden. The core barrel was sometimes found to

    contain oil instead of bituminous sand when removed from the holes during

    the drilling. This was interpreted as meaning that strata of oil occurred

    interbedded with the bituminous sand.

            In Situ Methods of Oil Recovery . The bituminous sand formation is

    extensive and it contains a prodigious quantity of oil. Wherever the

    Athabaska River and its tributaries cut their valleys deep enough to reach

    the formation, bituminous sand exposures occur. There is considerable evidence

    that the extent of the formation is 8,000 square miles, and some evidence

    that it is as great as 30,000 square miles. Along the Athabaska River the

    013      |      Vol_IIB-0434                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    bituminous sands are 150 to 200 feet thick. The entire section does not

    consist of high-grade material, of course. Much of it is clayey in nature

    and poorly impregnated with oil. However, it would be overconservative to

    estimate not more than an average thickness of 50 feet of good-grade material

    at all locations containing 10% of oil. On this basis a square mile of

    bituminous sand formation would contain 50 million barrels. It is thus

    obvious that the formation as a whole contains a quantity of oil that must

    be measured in tens of billions of barrels.

            The portion of the bituminous sand formation that is amenable to develop–

    ment by excavating the sand and winning the oil in a separation plant is

    small but, nevertheless, represents an enormous amount of oil. For this type

    of operation a large body of high-grade bituminous sand must lie in thickness

    under light overburden. Three such bodies are known and more undoubtedly

    exist awaiting discovery through exploration. In the area on the west side

    of the Athabaska River opposite Steepbank River, there is a body of sand

    185 feet thick containing an average of 13.5% of oil and lying under 35 feet

    of overburden. The 120 acres, proved by close drilling, contain 50 million

    barrels of oil. Operations under almost as favorable conditions probably

    could be extended over a square mile. On the east side of the Athabaska

    River at Steepbank River a second favorable area of 520 to 945 acres explored

    by drilling contains 100 to 200 million barrels. A third probable body of

    favorably occurring bituminous sand is located on the Oil Sands Ltd. lease

    at Bitumount.

            Although the quantity of oil that is obtainable by the excavation and

    separation plant method of recovery is large, the main body of oil in the

    bituminous sand formation lies under overburden a hundred or more feet thick

    014      |      Vol_IIB-0435                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    or, what amounts to the same thing, in rich beds which comprise only a

    fraction of the total thickness of the formation and which are toward the

    bottom of it. Some method of in situ recovery must be devised before this

    oil can be regarded as of practical significance. Now that the hot water

    separation process is understood and is ready for engineering application,

    the Research Council of Alberta is turning its attention to ways and means

    for recovering oil directly from the bituminous sand beds in place. An

    adaptation of water-flooding method has been studied but has been judged

    to be impracticable.

            The Research Council is not the first to think about in situ recovery

    methods. The need for them has been obvious and several field experiments

    have been made. Before World War I, D. Diver tried to distill oil destruc–

    tively from the bituminous sands by using an electric heater in a bore hole.

    Another experimenter tried introducing high pressure steam. During 1929-30,

    J. O. Absher tried to distill oil d i e structively from the sands by means of

    a fire maintained in a combustion chamber at the bottom of a bore hole, the

    oil in the sands providing fuel for the fire. None of these experiments

    was very intelligently conceived and the results were disappointing.

            Physical-property data regarding the bituminous sand and its oil content

    pertinent to the in situ recovery problem are acc o u mulating. The porosity

    of good-grade bituminous sand is about 35%. The permeability of the sand

    aggregate is high, being appropriately expressed in units of darcys rather

    than millidarcys. The coefficient of thermal conductivity of bituminous sand

    is about 0.003 in c.g.s. units. The formation temperature is about 35°F.; the

    viscosity of the oil in the bituminous sand appears to become progressively

    less from south to north through the deposit. At the formation temperature

    015      |      Vol_IIB-0436                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Development of Bituminous Sands

    at McMurray, this viscosity is of the order of 5 million poises, whereas

    at Bitumount it is about 20,000 poises. These viscosities become 60 and

    10 poises, respectively, at 150°F. Water under a small pressure gradient

    will flow very slowly through bituminous sand at 35°F., displacing some

    oil. This is probably the explanation of the oil seepages that occur

    commonly over the bituminous sand area.

            The challenge of the bituminous sands still stands but its ring is

    becoming distinctly less defiant. Interest in alternative sources for

    petroleum products is amounting rapidly. Large-scale efforts are being made

    to learn how to substitute oil shale and coal deposits for petroleum reservoirs.

    The problem of utilizing the Athabaska bituminous sand is simple compared to

    using oil shale or coal. The technology is understood now. The discovery

    of several new oil fields and the likelihood of more to follow is turning

    the Province of Alberta into a major petroleum-producing area. As such, it

    is acquiring pipeline connections to the general market. Hence, the problem

    of transporting oil from the bituminous sand deposits to where it will be

    used when required is being solved by the natural course of events. The

    time has arrived for a thorough analysis of the economics of producing oil

    products from the bituminous sands. The result of such an analysis will

    show whether the great cliffs along the Athabaska River have had their day

    of flaunting their storehouse of oil before passers-by, or whether their challenge

    must be endured for some years.

    016      |      Vol_IIB-0437                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Clark: Bituminous Sands


    1. Allan, J.A. “Rock salt deposit at Waterways,” Alberta. Research Council.

    Report no.34, pt.2. Edmonton, 1943, pp.40-57.

    2. Ball, Max W. “Development of the Athabaska oil sands,” Canad.Inst.Min.Metall.

    Trans . vol.44, pp.58-91, 1941.

    3. Clark, K.A. “The Athabaska tar sands,” Sci.Amer . vol.180, pp.52-55, May, 1949.

    4. ----. “Hot water separation of Alberta bituminous sand,” Canad.Inst.Min.Metall.

    Trans . vol.47, pp.257-74, 1944.

    5. ----, and Blair, S.M. The Bituminous Sands of Alberta. Part 1. Occurrence .

    Edmonton, 1927. Alberta. Research Council. Report no.18.

    6. ----, and Pasternack, D.S. “Hot water separation of bitumen from Alberta

    bituminous send,” Industr.Engng.Chem.Industr.Ed . vol.24, pp.1410-16,

    Dec. 1932.

    7. ----, ----. The Role of Very Fine Mineral Matter in the Hot Water Separation

    Process as Applied to Athabaska Bituminous Sand
    . Edmonton, 1949.

    Alberta. Research Council. Report no.53.

    8. Ells, S.C. Bituminous Sands of Northern Alberta, Occurrence and Economic

    Possibilities. Report on Investigations to the End of 1924
    . Ottawa,

    Acland, 1926. Canada. Dept. of Mines. Report no.632.

    9. ----. Use of Alberta Bituminous Sands for Surfacing of Highways . Ottawa,

    Acland, 1927. Ibid . no.684.

    10. “Experimental borings in northern Alberta,” Can.Geol.Surv. Summ.Rep....for

    . Ottawa, Dawson, 1898, pp.18-27.

    11. “Experimental borings in northern Alberta,” Can.Geol.Surv. Ibid....for 1898 .

    Ottawa, Dawson, 1899, pp.28-36.

    12. Hume, G.S. “Results and significance of drilling operations in the

    Athabaska bituminous sands,” Canad.Inst.Min.Metall. Trans . vol.50,

    pp.298-324, 1947.


    K. A. Clark

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