October 14th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 40
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Thar She Blows...... Not!
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Herald contributor photo
Driller standing next to hoisting line. Note: dog on drill deck
“Brylcreem- A little dab’ll do yah!
Brylcreem- The gals’ll all pursue yah!"
Remember that Brylcreem ad from the 1950’s. Yup I used it. How else could I get an Elvis wave in my hair? While hair dressings have been around for a long time it might interest you to know that the use of oil in the hair helped spark an oil exploration program here in the mountains.

It seems this story developed on the BC side of the Pass back to 1892 when one Dr. Selwyn , Director General of the Geological Research of Canada reported "straw colored oil seeps" in a local stream in the Flathead area. Apparently our "First Nations" friends had been using the oil for medicinal purposes and to "pomade" their hair, a tradition we picked up in the '50's and '60's with tubes with labels like "Brylcreem". Believe it or not it's still available and comes in an anti dandruff formula. No more greasy flakes for the "Fonz"

Of course when prospectors got wind of these oil seeps they tore into the area, hauling in a "full set of irons" by horse and constructing timber rigs with local timber. A steam engine or donkey, which would be part of the "irons" for a rig, weighed about five tonnes which probably made for some exhausting work considering the area's inaccessibility. The donkey created steam that drove the saw mill that cut the timber and planks for the camp buildings and the derrick itself.

The type of rig used back then was called a "cable tool rig" and used a technique that was first used around 1200 A.D. in China; the only difference being the Chinese used manpower not steam. The heavy chisel shaped bits used on cable rigs were hoisted to the top of the rig and dropped, literally pounding a hole in the ground. Work stopped periodically so that special tools could bail out the cuttings and water from the hole.

These rigs were capable of drilling up to 7,000 feet which would require no less than two years of up and down pounding to get to that depth.
In all 23 rigs were erected in the Flathead (1907-1930) with very little oil and gas discovered. One report of drilling operations in 1927 near Sage Creek in the Flathead stated: "Well brought in 50 feet of oil flowing over derrick - no estimate of flow made to date". Apparently they set off 2400 pounds of nitroglycerine down its 3000 foot deep hole prior to the report. Sounds like what oil they found was literally blasted out of the hole. It was dry within a week as it apparently became blocked. No kidding!
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The replica of Akamina #2 rig that now stands at the east edge of Fernie was put together in 1984 with the help of Shell Canada and David Yager. It has been nicely upgraded and is maintained by Alex Miller and the Fernie Derrick Society. #2 was one of five drilled in the Akamina Creek area and reached a depth of 600 feet before it was abandoned when some of the tools were lost down the hole. Some of the parts for this rig came from Oil City near Waterton where the first producing well in Western Canada was located. First Nations peoples (Kootenai , now called Ktunaxa) were known to use oil from seepage pools along Cameron Creek as a medicine. It is suggested at one of the interpretive signs at this National Historic Site that the Ktunaxa observed bears rolling in oil seeps there to rid themselves of insects.

Exploration at Oil City dates back to 1891 but began in earnest in 1901. John Lineham with the Rocky Mountain Development Corporation in Waterton Park was initially interested in oil to treat mange on livestock! The oil show at Oil City just didn’t pan out and was eventually shut down and abandoned in 1908.

Since the first well in the Flathead was pounded down many companies have come and gone through the years with Shell taking a stab at it in the 1980's. Others, like Home Oil and Chevron periodically felt obliged to take a shot at this supposed mystery. This interest was usually preceded by a round of seismic testing trucks with helicopters buzzing in and out of the valley at all hours. You'd think these guys would catch on sooner or later. The fact is most mountain oil and gas drilling is highly unsuccessful with the only gas to be found in Rocky Mountain drilling is in the drill camp's lunchroom as a result of the bull cook's fare. Actually, joking aside, Shell did in fact drill eight wells in the Flathead looking for CO2 and brought four of them in successfully. The idea was to pipeline the CO2 into Alberta to assist in tertiary recovery from depleted oil fields. They were all eventually abandoned as the reserves didn’t fit the economics of the 1980’s.
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Myself, I don't find it that much of a mystery. In all probability they will be unsuccessful and one of the reasons is inherent in our areas makeup. The Rocky Mountains were formed through a complicated process of thrusting and upheaval of formations. Those formations that lie relatively flat on the prairies are piled up on top of each other in the mountains, in sequences that can be difficult to follow. It is not unusual for mountain drilling to pass through the same sequence of formations two or three times on their way down. All that faulting and fracturing of formations has allowed most "trapped" hydrocarbons to drain off or come to surface in small amounts in places like the Flathead and Waterton.

But you just never know with oil and gas exploration till you try. The seismic work sometimes reveals potential target zones of fault trapped oil and gas. It's a risky business with no guarantees but when it pays, it pays big. In November of 2011 the Flathead Watershed Area Conservation Act was assented to by the BC Government and effectively put an end to any oil, gas and mining activity in the Flathead watershed. So Akamina #2 stands today as an important historic symbol of a time when oil discoveries were bringing about a new era in Western Canadian history.
October 14th ~ Vol. 85 No. 40
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