Canada 150: From early oil wealth to global GHG reduction tech enabler, Saskatchewan’s Weyburn-Midale oilfield just keeps giving

As with much of the early history of the oil and gas industry in Canada, Saskatchewan’s first major oil strike helped turn a somewhat impoverished farming community into one of the wealthiest areas on the prairies.

That transformation is personified in the lives of the Cugnet family, who started in a two-room shack on a homestead southeast of Weyburn but eventually became one of the most affluent and influential families in the province.

Matt Cugnet, president of Weyburn-based and family-owned Valleyview Petroleums, recalls the excitement of Saskatchewan’s first oil find, which occurred on a farm about a kilometre from his family’s homestead.

“My dad had never seen anything as exciting in his life,” Cugnet, a 38-year-old geologist and rancher, said of the strike in Midale, which happened in 1954.

Roughnecks who poured into the area during and after the strike bunked at the Cugnet family farm.

“A man appeared with a backsack in 1952. He was a geologist named Neil McQueen and he had hiked 250 miles from an existing oilwell in North Dakota, following surface indications along the Souris River to its headwaters just south of the family farm,” Matt’s father, the late Kenney Cugnet, was quoted in the Estevan Mercury.

Although the first successful well wasn’t drilled until 1954, spud by Central De Rio Oil and Gas Company (a forerunner of PanCanadian Energy and subsequently Encana), the arrival of McQueen and the roughnecks that followed changed the fortunes of the region.

The oilfield workers brought their families with them, and Matt Cugnet’s grandfather George recognized an opportunity and began renting yard space on the family farm for travel trailers.

The excitement of the oil industry also proved to be irresistible to Kenney Cugnet, who began working with a drilling company at a well location near the family farm and later worked in northern Alberta. He never looked back - and neither did the economy of the Weyburn-Estevan area.

In 1978 he formed Valleyview and bought his first quarter section of land. The rest is history for the Cugnet family, who remain substantial investors in major Saskatchewan producer Crescent Point Energy and other producers in the area.

The Weyburn field and the immediately adjacent Midale field are part of a larger oil pool with original oil in place of over two billion barrels. A recent article in the scientific journal Petroleum provided some of the history of the fields, pointing out that the average reservoir depth of 1,450 to1,500 metres makes it ideal for enhanced oil recovery, in this case using waterflood and carbon dioxide.

Between 1954 and 1964, primary production in the area led to peak rates of 45,000 bbls/d. After production declined to about 10,000 bbls/d, waterflooding was introduced in the 1980s, which pushed volumes back up around 45,000 bbls/d.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Weyburn’s operators became pioneers in horizontal well development.

In 2000 the field became the first in Canada to utilize CO2 for EOR, with the CO2 being purchased from the Dakota Gasification Company and pipelined from Beulah, North Dakota. It now also taps CO2 from the Boundary Dam power plant near Estevan, Saskatchewan.

Darcy Cretin, field manager of the Weyburn project for current operator Cenovus Energy, says production now is at 24,000 bbls/d. Apache utilizes CO2 EOR at its adjacent Midale field, where production averages about 18,000 bbls/d.

In addition to the EOR benefits of utilizing CO2, he says 30 million tonnes of the gas, which contributes to climate change, has been sequestered. The Cenovus and Apache projects are key pieces of Canada’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) operations.

Both Cenovus and Apache have been involved in international research projects utilizing Weyburn-Midale CCS operations to better understand and advance the technology, which is seen as a key piece of delivering meaningful results for global greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

Between 2000 and 2011, the companies participated in a CCS research project at the sites led by Regina’s Petroleum Technology Research Centre along with the International Energy Agency, six government bodies and 10 international producers.

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