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Atlantic No. 3 Wild Well Site

Devon, Near

Other Names:
Atlantic 1948 No. 3

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Atlantic No. 3 Wild Well Site is a 23.1 hectare parcel of land composed of dormant fields seeded to grass located two kilometres southeast of the Town of Devon. The scars of Alberta's greatest oilfield disaster are still evident in the bald patches in the seeded field. The site maintains its historic relation with the nearby Leduc No. 1 Discovery Well and adjacent farm lands.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Atlantic No. 3 Wild Well Site lies in its identity as the location of Alberta's most dramatic oilfield disaster. This disaster garnered worldwide interest and led to subsequent investment in the province's petroleum industry. It also resulted in enhanced regulatory standards and the development of new safety technology and well-control training.

1947 and 1948 were banner years for the oil and gas industry in Alberta. The blowing-in of Imperial Oil Well No. 1 (also known as Leduc No. 1) near Devon sparked interest in the province as a source of oil. Several other significant strikes established Alberta as Canada's leading petroleum producer. On January 15, 1948 drilling proved successful at tycoon Frank MacMahon's Atlantic No. 3 well, situated within sight of Leduc No. 1. Oil gushed out of the ground to a height of 150 feet. It was pressured by an estimated 15 million cubic feet per day flow. Such enormous pressure, unregulated by blow-out precautions, led on March 15 to the fracturing of the surrounding area. Natural gas and oil began to escape over a wide radius, causing serious concern and the implementation of emergency measures. On May 15, 1948 the Petroleum and Gas Conservation Board, through an Order-in-Council, took control of the well. Between March and September, over a million barrels of oil were recovered from Atlantic No. 3.

The well ran wild until September 6, when a spark from an unknown source ignited a massive conflagration. Flames leapt more than one hundred feet in the air and billows of acrid smoke could be seen for more than one hundred miles, while the whole atmosphere around most of Alberta was perceptibly darkened. Through the intervention of famous well control specialists Myron Kinley and Red Adair, the blaze was quelled by November, 1948. Major news services reported the story worldwide, and film footage from the Atlantic No. 3 Wild Well Site blaze was featured on the Movietone News in theatres. To the delight of industry leaders, this publicity conveyed the news of Alberta's extensive petroleum resources to the world market and brought international money into Alberta to finance the rapidly expanding oil industry.

After the disaster at the Atlantic No. 3 Wild Well Site, enhanced regulatory standards were mandated and initiated by the petroleum industry in Alberta. The Petroleum and Gas Conservation Board, administered by the Government of Alberta, required that the standards for blow-out prevention be upgraded and that surface casing requirements be sufficient to withstand extremely high pressures. Since the disaster, limited crop development has taken place on the Atlantic No. 3 Wild Well Site. Environmental studies have been undertaken to assess and quantify the effects of the disaster on the area's soil, and have gleaned important information for subsequent rehabilitation of other areas impacted by petroleum-related accidents. The site continues to yield scientific information.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2165)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Atlantic No. 3 Wild Well Site include such elements pertaining to the relevant historic event as:
- the relative vacancy of the whole site, in particular the area surrounding the bore hole;
- the dormant surrounding fields seeded to grass;
- the unobstructed view planes from the site, especially to the west, toward the site of Leduc No. 1.



Location



Street Address:
Community: Devon, Near
Boundaries: Lot 10, Block 1, Plan 1721410
Contributing Resources: Archaeological Site/Remainss: 1
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
4
26
26
50
50
23
23
12
13 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
1721410
1
10


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
53.333130 -113.704855 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2007/01/19

Historical Information

Built:
Significant Date(s) 1948/01/15
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Extraction and Production
Developing Economies : Technology and Engineering
Developing Economies : Trade and Commerce
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Science
Historic Function(s): Industry : Natural Resource Extraction Facility or Site
Current Function(s): Leisure : Historic or Interpretive Site
Architect:
Builder:
Context: HISTORICAL CONTEXT

When Imperial Oil Well #1 began gushing vast quantities of crude oil in February, 1947, Alberta officially entered the "oil age," and soon became Canada's leading producer. In short order, other important discoveries were made at Redwater, Devon, Valleyview and Swan Hills. In the meantime, the Leduc field was expanded, with other oil companies making significant strikes. One of these was the Atlanta Oil Company, headed by Frank MacMahon. On 16 August 1947, he signed a lease option for NW23 TP50 R26 W4 for $175,000. The owners of this farm were all members of the Rebus family, with the actual title to the land then in dispute. Also in dispute was a claim by Imperial Oil that it in fact already held a lease option for this quarter. MacMahon was able to work a deal with Imperial, while getting the Rebus family members to agree to his option.

On 15 January 1948, drilling proved successful, as oil gushed out of the ground to a height of 150 feet. It was pressured by an estimated 15 million cubic feet per day flow. Such extensive pressure was not easy to control. On 21 March, efforts to clear a stuck pipe resulted in the fracturing of the surrounding area, and natural gas and oil began to escape over a wide radius. Fearful of a fire the government put up roadblocks in the district, while the construction workers worked frantically to control the surge of oil and gas. Reportedly, redwood fibre, mud, and even feathers were used to stop the gush, without success. As the oil and gas spread, the entire Leduc field was shut down. On 15 May, operation of the errant well was taken over by the provincial Oil & Gas Conservation Board, which contracted Imperial Oil to try to cap the well and begin cleanup operations. The main activity involved pumping water down a nearby well directed towards the shaft of Atlantic #3. In the meantime, planes were warned away from the area, and there were even rumours that water supply could be affected as far away as Edmonton.

By June, most of the escaping fluid was seen to be oil. On 7 June, this was estimated to be 11,097 barrels daily. That which was gathering in various surface sumps then began to be piped away from the area. By 19 July, production from the well was estimated to have dropped to 7,772 barrels per day. Then, on 6 September, a spark from somewhere ignited a fire, and the greatest oil well disaster in Alberta's history began. The event caused a sensation heard around the world. As flames licked a hundred feet into the air, smoke billows could be seen for over a hundred miles, while the atmosphere around most of Alberta was darkened. News reporters came from all over North America, and the story was featured on television and on the Movietone News in theatres.

To combat the blaze, the noted oil well firefighter, Myron Kinley of Texas, was brought in. After trying several tactics that failed, he determined that two directional wells should be dug to kill the flow from the bottom, and this eventually worked. By November, the spectacular fire was over, and massive cleaning up operations were underway. The story was not over, however, for many parties had a legal claim, including the Rebuses, whose lives were disrupted by the hordes of sight-seers. Other oil companies also put in claims for damages. Indeed, the government passed a special act to deal with compensation due from the Atlantic #3 disaster. The out-of-control well also brought regulatory changes to the oil industry, such as minimum surface casting and control training standards.


HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

The historical significance of the Atlantic #3 Well Site lies in its representation of the greatest oil well disaster in Alberta's history, at least from the point of view of its magnitude and the international sensation it caused (There were no deaths associated with it). Visual images (still and moving) shown right at the sight will give the public a lasting impression of what took place.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1073
Designation File: DES 2165
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 81996
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2165)
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