Alberta Energy History Prior to 1970

The following events were part of Alberta's history, the list may not include all major events as it is based on announcements.

Pre 1715 / 1715-1899 / 1900's / 1910's / 1920's / 1930's / 1940's / 1950's / 1960's / 1970's / 1980's /
1990's to present 

Although hydrocarbons have been present in Alberta for millions of years, the earliest recorded use of bitumen dates back less than 300 years ago, and the first use of hydrocarbons to generate energy in Alberta date back just over a century ago. See energy measurements for conversion information.

Pre 1715
560 million years B.C. - Plants absorb solar energy and use it to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and carbohydrates such as sugar, starch and cellulose; these carbohydrates and other organic materials eventually settle on the ground and in stream, lake and sea beds and, as they become more deeply buried, are transformed by heat and pressure into solid, liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons known as fossil fuels.





The first known reference to the Athabasca oil sands was made by Captain Swan, a Cree chief acting as a middleman between the native hunters of the west and the fur factories of Hudson Bay. Swan told Governor James Knight in council at York Fort in 1715 about a river feeding the Churchill River where he found “Gum or pitch”. In 1719 Swan returned to York Fort, where Henry Kelsey had replaced Knight as governor. He gave Kelsey a sample of “that Gum or pitch that flows out of the Banks of that River.” 


Alexander Mackenzie writes of bituminous seeps among Alberta's Athabasca tar sands, into which a six-metre pole could be inserted "without the least resistance".


The first published record of coal in Alberta is attributed to Peter Fidler, a surveyor, explorer, mapmaker and fur trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company. According to the journal he kept as he travelled across the plains in 1793, Fidler first observed coal near the Red Deer River at Kneehills Creek, a short distance from present-day Drumheller.


Coal gas first used to light streetlamps in London, England. 


Natural gas piped through hollow logs to Fredonia, New York. 


Coal gas first used in streetlamps in Montreal. 


Coal gas first used in streetlamps in Toronto.


Geological Survey of Canada established to explore for coal and other minerals. 


Abraham Gesner of Halifax, Nova Scotia, opens a plant in New York to convert coal into kerosene, a new synthetic lamp oil (which replaced whale oil), using his patented process of fractional distillation.


American chemist Benjamin Silliman applies fractional distillation to Pennsylvania rock oil (crude oil) and discovers it produces high-quality lamp oil (kerosene).


Natural gas discovered in New Brunswick.


Entrepreneurs establish small, primitive oil refineries in Ontario, eastern Europe and the U.S.


James Miller Williams of Hamilton, Ontario creates the world's first vertically integrated oil company, combining in one company all aspects of the business from exploration to retail sales.


Natural gas discovered in south-western Ontario.


Chemical engineer Herman Frasch invents process to extract sulphur compounds from oil using copper oxide powder; until then, the foul smell of sulphur had prevented oil from being widely used as a fuel.


Development of the first coal powered electricity generators near present-day Lethbridge. 


Geological Survey of Canada investigates Athabasca oil sands.


Sixteen Ontario producing and refining companies merge to form the Imperial Oilexternal link iconCompany.

1882- 83

The first coal mine in Alberta was in Lethbridge (originally called Coalbanks), it opened in 1882, while the first mine in Edmonton opened in 1883. The Lethbridge area had over a dozen underground coal mines that each mined in excess of 100,000 tonnes, but the last of these closed in the mid-1960s.


Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) crew drilling for water near Medicine Hat, Alberta, accidentally discovers natural gas 55 kilometres northwest of Medicine Hat. The name of the site at the time was Langevin Siding. By 1910 it was called Carlstadt, and after World War I, the name was changed again to Alderson.


In 1883, the first Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) locomotive arrived in Medicine Hat, signaling great changes in the coal industry of the future province. The first branch line built from CPR’s mainline in Alberta was the North Western Coal and Navigation Company’s 174-km (108 mi.) narrow gauge line from Dunmore to Lethbridge in the southwest. Constructed to carry coal from Lethbridge to sell to the CPR as fuel for its locomotives, the line contributed to greater employment in the area through coal mining, railway development, increased flow of goods, and crop exports.


Canada's first single phase AC generators are commissioned in Calgary by the Bow River Lumber Company and Ottawa at Chaudiere Electric.


A second well was drilled just a few meters from the Langevin Siding site. This one produced enough gas to light and heat several buildings.


The Geological Survey of Canada collected natural gas information and presented the paper to the Royal Society of Canada. The paper was called On Certain Borings in Manitoba and the Northwest Territory. Of course, there was no reference to Alberta, since Alberta did not become a province until 1905.


The Canadian government established Banff National Park, it was the first national park in Canada and the second in North America. The Banff Hot Springs represent the most famous example of direct-use geothermal energy in Alberta's history.  


The No. 1 Mine begins coal production in Canmore, Alberta. Mining at Canmore continued until 1979.


Drilling for natural gas begins in south-western Ontario.


Natural gas well drilled at Niagara Falls, Ontario, begins exporting gas to Buffalo, New York.


Several more natural gas wells are drilled in the Medicine Hat area, producing gas for homes and factories.


The Canadian Electrical Association is formed to represent the industry.


Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company is founded and receives approval to build a coal-fired generating plant on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Source: Edmonton Power Historical Foundation 


Parliament passes bill authorizing funds for Geological Survey of Canada to investigate Athabasca oil sands as a source of petroleum.


The first hydro-generator in Alberta is built on the Bow River.  Source:  Centre for Energyexternal link icon


Drilling begins at Athabasca oil sands; crews strike a reservoir of natural gas which blows wild for 21 years.


Natural gas from Ontario piped to Windsor, Ontario and across the river to Detroit, Michigan.


Imperial Oil's refinery operations consolidated at Sarnia, Ontario.





Prior to 1900, most of Alberta’s population resided along the main CPR railway line or along branch lines under CPR control. However, in the early 1900s, this trend shifted somewhat when various railways and branch lines laid tracks further north into the province away from CPR’s main southern rail line. Northern rail routes then became directly responsible for establishing early coal communities, such as Drumheller, Forestburg and Nordegg, north of CPR’s main line. 


As known natural gas supplies dwindle, Ontario government bans exports to U.S. 


Medicine Hat (300 kilometres southeast of Calgary) develops its own gas utility. 


Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company is purchased by Edmonton becoming the first municipally-owned electric utility in Canada. Source: Edmonton Power Historical Foundation 


Alberta was proclaimed a province on September 1, 1905. The province was named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.  The inauguration ceremony featured an address by Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier. Approximately 12,000 Albertans were in attendance to witness the ceremony.


“Old Glory” was the name of the first major discovery. Development of the Bow Island gas field led to the first pipelines delivering natural gas to Alberta communities. 


Calgary Power is formed. Later renamed TransAlta, the company develops into Canada's largest investor owned utility. 





Following British decision to convert Royal Navy ships from coal to bunker oil, the Canadian government urges industry to find and develop domestic oil supplies. 


Martin Nordegg opened the largest mine in Alberta and created a model town that bears his name to this day. In 1923, Nordegg produced the largest amount of coal of all the mines in Alberta.


Calgary Power builds the first large-scale hydro plant in Alberta, the run-of-river Horseshoe falls hydro plant. Source: TransAltaexternal link icon


270-kilometre pipeline begins carrying natural gas from Bow Island, Alberta, to Calgary to replace coal gas as a heating, lighting and cooking fuel. The 16-inch (40 centimetre) pipeline was complete in just 86 days.  


First World War establishes oil as a key strategic commodity. 


May 14 was a victorious day for Arthur W. Dingman as he and his associates savoured the fruits of their risk-taking with a natural gas discovery at Turner Valley on the edge of Kananaskis Country. 


Sydney Ells demonstrates the first commercial use of oil sands. In 1915, he shipped several tonnes of Athabasca oil sands by water, sleigh and rail to Edmonton for a road paving experiment.


The Public Utilities Board (PUB) became Alberta’s first regulatory agency with the primary responsibility of regulating utility rates and service. At this time in Alberta’s history, since utility service was limited, the PUB had extended jurisdiction over a broad range of other matters, including the cancellation of subdivision plans, the approval of utility franchise agreements, the regulation of the sale of shares and securities within the province, the approval of tariffs for provincial railways and the approval of highway crossings by railway branch lines. Alberta Government Telephones (AGT), which was Alberta’s only telecommunications company at the time, also applied to the PUB for its rates.


The Soldier Settlement Board (SSB) came into being with the mandate to provide land for returning war veterans. The veteran would acquire title to the surface, but the minerals were reserved in the SSB name and administered by the Government of Canada.





Oil discovered at Norman Wells, Northwest Territories. 


Edmonton switches to natural gas for heating, lighting and cooking following completion of 130-kilometre pipeline from Viking, Alberta. 


The discovery of a decade earlier led the way to a deeper zone find just a few kilometres away. Royalite No. 4 put Turner Valley on the oil and gas map.


Dr. Karl Clark, chemist and oil sands researcher, perfects a hot water separation process while working for the Research Council of Alberta and the University of Alberta.  It becomes the basis of today's thermal extraction process.


R. C. Fitzsimmons forms the International Bitumen Company and builds a small scale pilot plant near Bitumount, 80 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.





Under the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement, the Dominion of Canada transferred mineral rights to the province of Alberta, granting the province rights to all minerals, oil and natural gas.  Approximately 81 per cent of the subsurface mineral rights are owned by the province.


Alberta Department of Lands and Mines established. 


First Alberta Royalty Regulation.


The Turner Valley Conservation Board was established. 


In 1933, the falling price of milk was affecting the profitability and viability of milk producers in Alberta. In an effort to provide price stability, the Government of Alberta declared milk a public utility. The Public Utilities Commission (renamed the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC)external link iconin 2008) began setting the minimum price that milk producers would receive (the wholesale price). The Commission was also put in charge of licensing and regulating milk producers and distributors. In 1969, the Government of Alberta created the Alberta Milk Control Board, and while the AUC's jurisdiction over the regulation of milk production was surrendered to the Board, it continued to set minimum wholesale prices. In 1991 the Government of Alberta deregulated the minimum retail price of milk.


The first natural gas export license was issued by the federal department of Trade and Commerce.


After more than 50 years of production, the second oil well to be discovered in Alberta was closed off (abandoned) with a few wheelbarrows of cement. The closing off process was still in its infancy and abandonment operations continued until 1954.


Invention of nylon, the first plastic made from petroleum products. 


Under the Fuel Oil Licencing Act, Alberta's 1000 fuel dealers were required to obtain a licence from the Public Utilities Board. 


Oil leg discovered in the Mississippian zone at Turner Valley.


Rotary drilling rigs indicated oil existed at greater depths than oil found in earlier discoveries. 


The Petroleum and Natural Gas conservation Board, became the Energy Utilities Board (EUB then the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), on June 17, 2013 the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) took over to provide full-lifecycle regulatory oversight of energy resource development in Alberta.





Alberta shifted the royalty rates on oil from a flat rate of 10 per cent to a choice of a 12.5 per cent flat rate or a five to 15-per-cent royalty based on production levels.


Pipeline built from Portland, Maine, to refineries in Montreal to overcome wartime danger to East Coast tanker traffic. 


Canada's first offshore oil well drilled from artificial island off Prince Edward Island, to a depth of 4,500 metres and at a cost of $1.25 million; no commercial qualities of oil or gas were found. 


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes the Canol Pipeline, an expensive but short-lived pipeline system carrying crude oil from Norman Wells to a new refinery at Whitehorse, Yukon, and refined oil products to Fairbanks and Skagway, Alaska. 


After drilling 133 dry holes across Western Canada, Imperial Oil strikes oil at Leduc, Alberta, on February 13, transforming Canada into an oil-rich nation. Learn more at the Leduc# Discovery Centreexternal link icon


Imperial Leduc No. 2 found oil in the Devonian reef which formed during the Devonian period, the “Age of Fishes” (395 to 345 million years ago) until this discovery, oilmen thought that you could not find oil from that time period. The town of Devon, Alberta, is named after this. 


The Alberta royalty rate is capped at 16 and two thirds per cent. 


Alberta Department of Lands and Mines succeeded by two new departments: Lands and Forests, and Mines and Minerals. 





Oil replaces coal as Canada's largest single source of energy; pipelines established to transport natural gas to Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.


Detonation of underground atomic explosive device proposed to melt Athabasca oil sands bitumen to aid commercial development; federal government denies approval.


A sliding scale was established in Alberta Royalty Regulations.


First section of the Interprovincial Pipe Line Inc. (now Enbridge Pipelines Inc.) oil pipeline laid from Edmonton to Superior, Wisconsin, in 1953 it was extended to Sarnia, Ontario.


First sulphur recovery plant built in Alberta for sour gas (natural gas).


Trans Mountain Pipeline Company line completed from Edmonton to Vancouver.


The Alberta Gas Trunk Line Company Limited (AGTL), (now called NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd.) was created to build and operate a province-wide natural gas transportation system. In 1957, Alberta gas began to flow through the AGTL (NOVA) system.


Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company's Rossdale plant switches from coal to natural gas.


Western Canada's Oil and Gas industry invests more than half a million in development. Source: Oil patch History


First gas exported by the Westcoast Energy Inc. pipeline system through Vancouver to U.S. markets.


Construction of the TransCanada Pipelines system was completed from Alberta to eastern Canada.


Entwistle resident Einar Opdahl found a diamond on the banks of the Pembina River. The diamond weighed 0.83 carats and was sold for $500.


National Energy Boardexternal link iconcreated by federal government to oversee interprovincial and international energy trade.





The Gas Utilities Act is introduced, it is still a major part of legislation currently governing the jurisdiction of the ERCB. In the 1960s, urbanization and industrialization increased the number of utility customers by 62%.


Alberta establishes air quality standards that include limits on industrial emissions of hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide.


National Oil Policy directs that all refineries west of the Ottawa valley must use higher priced crude from western Canada.


The Pacific Gas Transmission pipeline (now called Gas Transmission Northwest) is built to deliver Alberta gas to customers in the US Pacific Northwest and California.


In 1964 Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) started mining oil sands to produce crude bitumen, when Fort McMurray was a small trading post.


Around the middle of the 1960's Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) was piloted in the Clearwater Formation it proved to be the key to unlocking bitumen.


Great Canadian Oil Sands, now part of Suncor energy Ltd., initiates the world's first large-scale oil sands operation, the Athabasca oil sands at Fort McMurray. Total production in 1967 reached about 2,500 barrels per day.

Year   Event 
1970sNatural gas and oil deposits found off the coast of Nova Scotia.
1970sDr. Roger M. Butler developed the concept of using horizontal pairs of wells and injected steam to develop certain deposits of bitumen considered too deep for mining. Cyclic steam injection (CCS) was the previous process, his invention of  Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) technology paved the way for scores of in situ projects changing the oil sands industry.  Source:  Canadian Petroleum hall of fameexternal link icon
1970The Board of Arbitration was formed to handle expropriations formerly the jurisdiction of the Public Utilities Board.  The Board of Arbitration is now the Surface Rights Boardexternal link icon .
1970Edmonton’s electrical distribution and power plant departments merge and become known as Edmonton Power, construction then begins in its Clover Bar generating station. Source: EPCOR
1972Alberta plan proposed a mineral tax assessment on remaining recoverable crude oil reserves at fair value with no change in the existing royalty structure, it also included an Exploratory Drilling incentive system. Changes were to take effect in January 1973.  Source:  Oilpatch History
1972Federal and B.C. governments impose moratorium on West Coast offshore oil and gas exploration.
1973Arab oil embargo sets off first global energy crisis. To initiate a capital investment program and to lessen the dependence on foreign oil, the Alberta Energy Company Ltd was created. It would later merge with PanCanadian Energy Corporation to create Encana.
1973Prime Minister Trudeau decrees 'made in Canada' crude oil prices.
1973Alberta implemented a price sensitive royalty regime. Prior to that, royalties were paid at a fixed rate.
1973The Alberta Petroleum Marketing Act created the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commissionexternal link icon (APMC).
1974The Natural Gas Price Protection Plan was introduced. The Public Utilities Board’s role in the plan, which was aimed towards sheltering Alberta consumers from increasing world market prices for natural gas, was set out in the Natural Gas Rebate Act. Under the Act, the Board was required to issue certificates qualifying utilities to receive provincial rebates.
1974The Petroleum Royalty Regulation allows rebates for eligible costs of injection materials for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) schemes.
1974The Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commissionexternal link icon (APMC) was created by the Petroleum Marketing Act, the Commission is the provincial Crown corporation responsible for selling the conventional crude that the Alberta government receives in lieu of cash royalties. The main objective of taking in-kind is to maximize the value of the Crown’s royalties. The Crown Marketing agents are contracted to sell the Crown royalty share along with their own production, thus ensuring a competitive market price is received for the sales of these volumes.
1974The Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) was formed for promotion of the development of new technologies for oil sands and heavy-oil production.
1974Oil and natural gas pools are classified by "vintage" for royalty calculation purposes. Vintage refers to the date of discovery of the oil or gas pool from which production occurs. Royalty rates for production from newly discovered pools are set lower to reflect the higher average finding and development costs associated with newer smaller pools. Alberta has only two vintages: old, discovered before 1974 and new, discovered after 1973.
1975Alberta Department of Energy and Natural Resources created by merging two existing departments: Lands and Forests, and Mines and Minerals.
1975Natural gas prices in Canada became regulated under Federal-Provincial agreement.
1978Syncrude Canada Ltd., a consortium of oil companies and the federal and provincial governments, opens oil sands mining and upgrading project at Fort McMurray. This effort combined with the Great Canadian Oil Sands (Suncor Energy Ltd.) operation that began in 1967 increased the total mined bitumen in the province to over 90,000 barrels per day.
1978The United States began the process of natural gas deregulation.
1979Alberta´s first ethylene plant was officially opened at Joffre. A second ethylene plant and a polyethylene plant began production in 1984 to eventually make it the largest in North America.
1979First large oil discoveries made at the Hibernia field off Newfoundland.
1979Canadian oil industry converts to metric.


Year   Event 
1980sFirst permanent buried pipeline completed in the Canadian Arctic to carry light crude oil from Norman Wells to Alberta.
1980Medicine Hat, Alberta, replaces coal-fired steam units with Canada’s first gas turbine, combined cycle cogeneration system. Source: Centre for Energyexternal link icon
1980In October, the National Energy Programexternal link icon (NEP) reinforced the 1973 made-in-Canada price policy. The NEP sought to achieve 3 objectives: energy security, by which was meant oil self-sufficiency; a redistribution of wealth towards the federal government and consumers; and a greater Canadian ownership of the oil industry. Many Albertans thought the NEP was an intrusion on provincial rights since resources are owned by the provinces.  It passed a large benefit to central Canada and led to a significant number of companies and jobs leaving Alberta. Source: Alberta Online Encyclopediaexternal link icon The NEP ended with the 1984 election.
1980The Constitution Actexternal link icon gives each province the exclusive right to make laws in relation to the development, conservation and management of natural gas in the province.
1981Calgary Power changes its name to TransAlta Utilities.  Source:  TransAlta
1982The Alberta government created the Electric Energy Marketing Agency. The Public Utilities Board was required to set the price at which utilities would sell electric energy to the Electric Energy Marketing Agency. The aim in doing so was to achieve a measure of equalization of electrical rates by averaging the price of generation and transmission across the province.
1982The Petroleum Incentives Program Act is implemented to encourage development of oil and gas in Alberta following the 1980 National Energy Program. Source: Canada's Petroleum Heritageexternal link icon
1982-86 OPECexternal link icon attempted to set production quotas low enough to stabilize prices. These attempts met with repeated failure as various members of OPEC  produced beyond their quotas. During most of this period Saudi Arabia acted as the swing producer cutting its production in an attempt to stem the free fall in prices. In August of 1985, the Saudis linked their oil price to the spot market for crude and by early 1986 increased production from 2 MMBPD to 5 MMBPD. Crude oil prices plummeted below $10 per barrel by mid-1986. Despite the fall in prices Saudi revenue remained about the same with higher volumes compensating for lower prices. Source: West Texas Research Groupexternal link icon
1983The oil and gas servicing incentive program regulation is introduced which authorized the Minister to make grants for eligible well servicing costs of wells, batteries and pipelines.
1984-85The Progressive Conservative government under Prime Minister Mulroney replaced the Liberal government and signed the Western Energy Accordexternal link icon in 1985 that eliminated the National Energy Program.
1985Federal government deregulates oil prices, opens Canada's borders to imports and exports.
1985Oil Royalty holiday programs are introduced to reward successful explorers where previous grant-oriented programs only favoured activity.
1985Commercial production began at Imperial’s Cold Lake cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) injection project. This method involves injecting high-pressure steam into the bitumen in order to soften and separate it from the sand.
1985-86Federal government and East Coast petroleum-producing provinces reach agreements to jointly manage offshore oil and gas resources.
1985Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the federal government signed the Agreement on Natural Gas Markets and Prices, which began the process of natural gas price deregulation in Canada.
1985After 70 years of production, the Turner Valley Gas Plantexternal link icon was shut down. It is now a provincial and national historic site.
1986The price of natural gas was deregulated by a federal-provincial agreement, the provincial government allowed the Natural Gas Protection Plan to expire, in light of the decline in natural gas prices which occurred after deregulation.
1986Alberta Department of Energy and Natural Resources is succeeded by two new departments: Energy, and Forestry, Lands and Wildlife.
1988Alberta Energy published a monthly Alberta Average Market Price (AMP) for natural gas/residue gas. The AMP is given in units of $/1000 3 and $/GJ. The AMP in $/1000 m3 is used in the royalty rate formula to calculate the Crown's royalty volumes. The AMP in $/GJ is used in the valuation price test. This test specifies that the minimum valuation price that may be applied to the Crown's royalty share of production is 80% of the AMP ($/GJ) in effect during the month of sale. The AMP was effective for the production years 1988 to 1993.
1989Genesee 2, using coal-fired steam turbine equipment, was the first Genesee generation unit to be completed. Its capacity was 410 megawatts.