Wes Rabey fly-fishing near Clyde, 1946.

As with Leduc, geophysics pointed the way to Redwater, the 800 mil/ion-barrel crude discovery of 1948. It will be the subject of Aubrey Kerr’s fourth self-published hook, expected off the press in the spring of 1993. Wes Rabey has kindly provided important background, an excerpt of which follows. Rabey’s long, successful career continues, drilling horizontal holes in Texas.

Westley Noel Rabey is a prairie product, born in Moosomin, Saskatchewan. His down-east education resulted in a mining engineering degree from the University of Toronto. He was hired by Imperial Oil in Toronto and sent to the Carter Oil Co., an affiliate, on a training program. He joined Harold Stoneman’s crew in Louisiana.

In the spring of 1945, Rabey was transferred to Saskatchewan, and reported to Ernie Lemke’s crew which later became Frank Roberts’ Party #19. This was one of two crews (Spragins was the other) which would work through a Canadian winter rather than the previous six-month stints. This group would work its way past Provost to winter in Wainwright. Long trips out to the field through snow drifts complicated life, especially for Frank Roberts, who had never experienced such frigid conditions.

Early in 1946 the crew, with Rabey, shot the historic single line from Redwater to Breton picking up on its way the Leduc anomaly. Wes expressed disappointment that his Party had not been allowed to go back in and do the continuous profiling on Leduc. Ray Walters, Imperial Oil’s geophysicist, hired a Heiland crew, with Jim Ziegler as Party Chief, for that. They defined the feature sufficiently to justify drilling, but no one knew what the anomaly meant. Reefs were an unknown quantity. Imperial Leduc No. I was the result on February 13, 1947.

Wes explained the five-hole shooting pattern, which meant there was control only as close as 1-1/4 miles with each shotpoint having to be “jump-correlated” with the others. Wes was the head computer stationed in Imperial Oil’s office in Edmonton J where the field crew sent in the raw records. One of the operational problems was the low velocity (weathering) layer that had to be stripped off to eliminate its effect on the deeper events, which could result in pseudo structures. Removal of L.V.L. phenomena would hopefully result in representative subsurface geology.

Wes Rabey’s main claim to fame is his having seismically recognized the Redwater anomaly in 1946, BEFORE Leduc was drilled. Frank Roberts’ crew was carrying out five-point (hole) shooting in the area northeast of Edmonton in July or August of that year.

Wes noted a small magnitude structure on the Cretaceous and a much more prominent feature on a deeper horizon we now know as the Elk Point Salt. This meant an interval thinning between the Cretaceous and the Elk Point over the observed anomaly. “We didn’t know at the time that the interval velocities of the shale and reef were involved, which helped create the feature–never mind the fact that we didn’t know what caused it.”

When he sent his interpretation to the Calgary office, it did not match the deep structure and they suggested he change his maps to correspond to theirs. He couldn’t agree and tried several times to get Calgary to accept his interpretation. They rejected it on the basis “there could never be such a structure on the prairies.”

Frank Roberts went off on vacation. Rabey was determined not to give up, and he asked Bob Grier, operator of Party 19, “What would it take to rewire the recording truck to do some continuous profiling?” Bob said, “Just a few hours.” So they picked a time-a rainy day-in the area they were working, but not at Redwater. They shot two miles of continuous profile over what would later be recognized as the east reef edge, and the results were astounding. There were 40 milliseconds of relief where the reef broke over onto the seaward side. Wes had proved Calgary wrong.

It is self-evident that 1,000 ft of shale at 13,000 ft/sec has a slower velocity than 1,000 ft of reef at 18,000 ft/sec. This is what happened when they shot eastward across the east edge of Redwater reef in 1946, where both the Cretaceous and the Elk Point salt were excellent reflectors. Then, suddenly, the Elk Point reflector dropped. This was due to the energy travelling through, first, the fast reef-then, at the edge, into slow shale. The salt appeared to come in at a lower elevation, but it was actually the same elevation subsea-wise. “2”

When Frank returned from his holiday, Wes disclosed this extra work. Frank asked, “Did you get permission from Calgary?” Wes answered, “No.” Frank said, “You’ll get me fired!” The tempest in a teapot blew over. Shortly after, in later September 1946, Wes was transferred to Calgary to do interpretation on several parties’ records mainly because, if he could spot Redwater, he could pick up other anomalies. He kept bugging Walters and others, “When are you going to file on that land? If you don’t, I’ll quit and file on it myself.”3

Walters now knew the anomaly existed, but he was not enthused about it being a deep structure. According to Wes, it was not until Imperial had tried to re-acquire the Western Minerals parcels in Twp 56, Rge 21 and Twp 57, Rge 21 (without success) that Imperial finally got around to drilling it.

This fits in with stories concerning Barnsdall.

After the Redwater feature had been mapped (unquestionably their best prospect), and while waiting for the controversy with Western Minerals to be settled, Imperial temporized by drilling a well at Fedorah 6 (known as Redwater “C”), which was on the down dip side of the Redwater anomaly. Fedorah turned out to be geologically a reef well, but 300 ft below water. It was a dry hole.

Bud Coote states that, when Ray Walters saw Wes’ anomaly, he approved more detail shooting and hired two Heiland Geophysical Company crews (Ed Lambert was a jug hustler on one) to go out on to the feature. It took them several months to achieve a fuJI interpretation of the entire reservoir. Bud also has an account, similar to Wes’ that Imperial’s landmen tried to get Western Minerals’ lands and, in so doing, tipped off Eric Harvie, who was angry at Imperial’s failure to move some of his royalty oil from his Leduc lease to the railhead during road ban. This is believed to be the reason for his spurning Imperial Oil. Bud also recalls Mike Haider? from Toronto coming out to talk to Ray Walters and Jack Armstrong about trying to get the acreage, but to no avail. After further delay, it was decided to drill Redwater No.1. There is no indication that the location had been approved months before because the drilling recommendation (approved by Haider) was dated May 17, 1948. The well site was surveyed June 11 by Jim Carpenter assisted by Don Lougheed, just graduated that spring. The well was spudded July 23,1948. Was Rabey’s technical report to Walters recommending the drilling of what was termed Redwater “A”, dated July 27, merely an afterthought for record purposes? Hardly!

After the discovery, Wes worked nights trying to figure out the optimum lease block configurations in accordance with the new regulations which would maximize Imperial’s reserves. The other 50% of the Reservation had to be surrendered to the Crown. Rabey said he tried about 200 different combinations. (According to Bud, Fred McKinnon, then with Imperial, helped Wes. Fred told the author that he worked on the problem.)

Bud Coote 8 left Imperial January 1950, and Rabey departed about six months later. “I knew I was just an employee for a large oil company … I turned in my resignation to Ray (Walters) … he wouldn’t accept it … offered a big raise.” But Wes left anyway. He had experienced entrepreneurship with his father and felt that he had to try it. He has never looked back.

Aubrey Kerr


  1. Alexandra Block, on IDDA Street, owned by Harry Reidford’s father, now demolished.
  2. All of the data were run on sensitized paper.
  3. Imperial Oil applied for Crown Reservation #443 in April of 1947.
  4. One source said that Imperial had not wanted any freehold east of the east boundary of Twp 57 Rge 22 W4M when they exercised their option to acquire Eric Harvie’s lands. Shell must have protected THEIR J946 option from Eric Harvie to the Redwater lands even though they had dropped all of the other option acreage in 1946.
  5. Barnsdall Oil Co., with partners Seaboard, Los Nietos, and Honolulu, acquired some half-sections from Western Minerals.
  6. Loc. 13-22-57-23 W4 on a 4x4 Crown lease spudded March 12, 1948, abandoned June 5 at 6500 feet.
  7. Julius Abzinger, retired petroleum engineer, claims Mike was Austrian by birth and had been a hard taskmaster in the U.S., thus the promotion to Vice President, Imperial Oil.
  8. Bud recalls he and Wes discussing their departure. After January 1950, Bud would be approached by many Imperial geophysicists (on the sly, Bruce McDougall was one) to ask what it was like “out there”.



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