The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin:  A confluence of Science, Technology, and Ideas

Speaker: Paul MacKay | Shale Petroleum Ltd. 

December 11, 2018
Crystal Ballroom, Fairmont Palliser | 133 9 Ave SW, Calgary AB

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The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin is the second Largest Intra-Cratonic Basin in the world.  It covers over 1.4 million square kilometres across the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.  It tapers to a zero thickness against the Precambrian Shield to the east and is bounded to the west by the Rocky Mountain where it is up to 7 kilometres thick.  The Basin currently has 171 billion barrels of oil reserves and 632 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.  The basin produces approximately 15 BCF/D and 3.5 million barrels of oil per day (over two thirds of this heavy oil and bitumen).

The first discovery of hydrocarbons was made by the CPR looking for water in the Medicine Hat area.  They encountered gas and used it for cooking, heating and for street lamps.  John “Kootenai” Brown discovered an oil seep in what is now Watertown National Park along Cameron Creek.  The first significant find was in Turner Valley along the Sheep River into lower Mesozoic sandstones.  Approximately ten years later Royalite #4 was drilled deeper into the Paleozoic’s carbonates and hit sour oil and gas.  The next major discovery was the Leduc discovery south of Edmonton (1947) which created a frenzy of exploration throughout the province of Alberta for sour gas.  The Pembina Pool was discovered in 1953 by Mobil Oil looking for deep sour gas and encounter sweet oil in the Upper Cretaceous Cardium Formation.  With the Arab Oil Embargo in the early 1970’s the Oil Sands became economic and by early 2000’s began to dominate the Canadian oil industry.

The basin has multiple source rocks, numerous reservoir horizons, and an abundance of data.  There are multiple hydrocarbon systems most of which generate in the western part of the basin and migrate to the east to form the massive oil sands deposit in the Fort McMurray area. The principal migration direction is horizontal and seems to be highly influence by highs and lows in the underlying crystalline basement rock. This migration of hydrocarbons has created one of the richest basins in the world for hydrocarbons.  The economics of the basin is hampered by the long distance to tidewater and the lack of take away capacity.  The future of the basin rests on the ability to get hydrocarbons to market, if the Canadian public is able to do this, Canada will become a significant player in the global market.


Paul A. MacKay, Ph.D., P.Geo.

Paul MacKay received a B.Sc.(honours, geological sciences) from Queen’s University in 1980 and a Ph.D. from the University of Calgary (1991). He initially worked for Amoco Canada then moved to Morrison Petroleums, Northstar Energy, and Devon Canada before beginning an international consulting practice.  He is currently President & CEO of Shale Petroleum Ltd. a private oil company based in Calgary, Alberta.  His expertise is in fracture systems, petroleum exploration and development in structurally complex reservoirs. He teaches field courses in Structural Geology/Geophysics in the Canadian Rockies and field seminars on Fractured Reservoirs in Wyoming. He is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Calgary and is the Past-President of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists.  He is a member or the CSPG, CSEG, AAPG, and APEGA.