I came across this article recently, and I post it here for the interest of our members. Ned Gilbert hasn’t come out to an MEG meeting for many years. It seems he’s still alive, but he’d be about 96 now. You can’t really blame him for not coming out to meetings anymore. Probably our most illustrious member.

Edward Everett (Ned) Gilbert

An American by birth, Ned Gilbert can arguably be referred to as the man most important to the success of the Canadian oilsands industry.

Born in Madison, Wis., in 1922, Ned attended the University of Wisconsin during the early years of World War II and made two unsuccessful attempts to join the military while in school. The U.S. Army’s loss was Sun Oil Company’s gain—he accepted a job with the company in Nova Scotia (although his university studies were incomplete) and, in January 1945, arrived in Calgary as Sun Oil’s sole employee in western Canada, with a mandate to develop geological prospects, type reports and make recommendations to Sun’s head office in Philadelphia.

In late 1946, he returned to university to complete his BA degree, and rejoined Sun Oil in Calgary in 1947, where the company’s activity and office continued to expand beyond the experience of the 25-year-old geologist. Consequently, Sun Oil appointed George Dunlap to run the Calgary operation while Ned chose to become land manager.

Even as far back as the war years, Sun Oil chairman J. Howard Pew was concerned about the eventual decline of conventional oil production in the United States and he directed the company to begin researching Alberta’s oilsands—a subject that keenly interested Ned, who had frequently met with Karl Clark at his Edmonton laboratories in 1945 and 1946.

In 1948, Ned succeeded in acquiring two oilsands permits in the Bitumont region north of Fort McMurray, but by April 1951, Dunlap, along with Sun Oil’s senior management, had lost interest in the oilsands on the grounds that their development would be too expensive—a common enough belief in Calgary at the time.

Ned, however, did not hold with that opinion and, in September 1951, he wrote a letter to George Dunlap, with copies to Pew and other senior management, effectively taking his plea for continued oilsands activity over his boss’ head. In his letter, he pointed out that an available permit covering 50,000 acres and containing an estimated 800 million barrels of recoverable oil could be held for a three-year period with a deposit of $1 per acre and a rental rate of just 40 cents per acre.

“I will not attempt to speak for the engineers and geologists, but I know of no other place in the world where I can, if I am the first to apply for a tar sands permit, obtain proven oil reserves for less than a dollar and forty cents per acre and whereby spending an additional amount of money equal to the cost of drilling wells, on a similar block of land in, for example, the Redwater field, I may set up a separation and refining plant and probably solve a major portion of my transportation problems,” Ned wrote in his letter, closing by suggesting Sun Oil apply immediately for a tar sands permit.

Ned’s arguments were persuasive and his letter to Pew effectively changed Sun Oil’s development strategy and the history of oilsands development in Alberta. His original two permits near Bitumont are now part of Suncor Energy’s mining operation; the permit he referred to in his letter—mockingly called Gilbert’s Folly at the time—is now part of Suncor’s Firebag in situ project.

“Ned has served the petroleum industry for close to 65 years,” John Hogg, vice-president, exploration and operations for MGM Energy Corp. wrote in support of Ned’s Hall of Fame induction. “This honour would close out a career for a man who has seen the oilsands move from vision to the industrial engine of our province and it all started with a single lease, purchased by Mr. Gilbert.”