Description of Historic Place
The Turner Valley Gas Works is a near complete industrial complex that was used to extract and process natural gas. The site consists of numerous metal and concrete structures, many of which, such as the scrubbing plant, compressors and well sites, are directly related to the extraction and processing of oil and natural gas. These structures are complemented by a number of support buildings such as maintenance sheds, storage tanks, warehouses and office buildings. The structures are spread out across the site's approximately 150 acres. The site was in use from 1913 to 1985 with most of the structures being built between 1930 and the late 1950s. Situated on the north bank of the Sheep River, the gas works site is located just inside the boundaries of the Town of Turner Valley. Since the facility was decommissioned in 1985, some of its structures have been dismantled for safety reasons. However, the site is still an excellent representation of a near-complete oil and gas extraction and processing centre.
The heritage value of the Turner Valley Gas Works lies in its association with the development of Alberta's petrochemical industry and the creation of provincial regulatory bodies. The Gas Works is also significant as an example of industrial architecture used in the petrochemical industry.
Acting on reports from local ranchers of oil in the Turner Valley area, Calgary Petroleum Products (CPP) began drilling an exploratory well in August 1913. This well, commonly referred to as Dingman #1, hit a supply of natural gas and naphtha on May 14, 1914. This discovery was the first major gas strike in Canada west of Ontario and it heralded the beginning of the petrochemical industry in Alberta. Stock market speculation in Alberta-based oil and gas exploration increased and the province began to attract investment from foreign sources, particularly the United States. CPP sunk additional wells and built a compressor, the first in Canada, an absorption plant, the first in Canada and the second in the world, and numerous support buildings to begin processing gasoline. A 1920 fire destroyed many of the buildings and forced CPP to sell the facility to the Royalite Oil Company, a subsidiary of Imperial Oil. Royalite sank more wells and began to utilize pioneering technologies at the site. Many plants and processes used at the Turner Valley Gas Works were the first of their kind in Canada; these include the sour gas scrubbing facility (built in 1925) and its Gerbitol unit upgrades (added in 1941 and 1952); the propane plant (built in 1948 and moved to the site in 1952); and the sulphur plant (built in 1952). The continued presence of these structures, along with supporting buildings, pipelines and storage tanks, make the Turner Valley Gas Works an excellent representation of early- to mid- twentieth century industrial architecture adapted for use in the petrochemical industry. To prevent a reoccurrence of the 1920 fire most of the newer plants, equipment and buildings were spaced widely apart and were typically constructed on concrete foundations with steel superstructures or frames. Exterior walls were often clad in metal sheeting or concrete and industrial style metal window and door frames were installed. Vegetation on the site was also suppressed. The result was a collection of low-maintenance and low-risk structures which set the standard for many future oil and gas facilities in Alberta and throughout North America. Although the discovery of oil at Leduc in 1947 and other subsequent discoveries ultimately dwarfed Turner Valley in size and importance, the foreign investment created by the Turner Valley site and the knowledge gained through research and development and technological experimentation at the Turner Valley Gas Works proved to be invaluable and established Alberta as a pre-eminent centre for oil and natural gas production. After more than 70 years in operation, the Turner Valley Gas Works was decommissioned and closed in 1985.
The Turner Valley Gas Works is also significant for the role it played in the establishment of regulatory bodies in Alberta's petrochemical sector. A lack of markets and disputes between CPP and other producers and distributors of gas products resulted in substantial quantities of excess gas from the Turner Valley oil field being wasted through flaring. In response, the provincial government created the Turner Valley Conservation Board to regulate this wastage. The board quickly failed due to heavy opposition from producers and federal disallowance of legislation. In 1938, with support from Imperial Oil, the government created the Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board to ensure the efficient use of the province's oil and gas reserves. This Board is a direct forerunner to the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board.
Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1393)
Key elements that define the heritage value of the Turner Valley Gas Works include such elements as:
- situation at a bend in the Sheep River adjacent to the Town of Turner Valley;
- lack of vegetation throughout the plant yard;
- spatial association and arrangement of associated buildings, pipelines and equipment;
- overall industrial appearance of the site, lack of fenestration and ornamentation and the general massive size and form of its processing buildings and smaller size of the support structures.
- arrangement of buildings and structures on three terraces;
- the lowest terrace (3920') contains the Old and New Pumphouses, Oil/Water Separator, Process Water Ditch; Oily Steam Condensate Pit and Pump, Cooling Water API Separator and the Rerun Pumphouse;
- the middle terrace (3936') contains the process buildings; various underground and overhead gas, product and waste pipelines and utility systems; the support buildings; numerous vessels, drums, propane and butane storage tanks; truck loading area; pumps; the A.G. condensate; and the Dingman #1 well head; (Table 17 lists others)
- the third terrace (3960') contains various storage vessels, the emergency flare stack and the Foamite building.
- includes the #1 Compressor Plant (1930s and more recently expanded), Absorption Plant (built 1933), Gasoline Plant (built 1933 and expanded in 1942 and 1952), Old Water Pumphouse (built 1933), Scrubbing Plant (built 1935), Sulphur Plant (built 1952), Propane Compressor Building (built 1952), Steam Plant (built 1962), Fractionation Plant (built 1975), New Water Pumphouse (1977), Joy Compressor Building (built 1978), Lean Oil Pumphouse and Oil/Water Separator;
- steel frame construction of all major structures, with the exception of the steel frame and concrete block Steam Plant, the concrete block New Water Pumphouse and the wood frame Oil/Water Separator buildings;
- corrugated, sheet metal cladding on the walls and roofs of all major structures, with the exception of the concrete block New Water Pumphouse and the wood clad Oil/Water Separator Buildings;
- high walls of many buildings, particularly the 20' high, single-storey Joy Compressor Building, the 14' high walls and 22' high roof peak of the Compressor Plant, 28' high Absorption pant and its five 62' high absorption towers; one-and one-half-storey Gasoline Plant, two-storey Sulphur Plant, 30' high Propane Compressor Building, 20' high one and one-half-storey Steam Plant, the 22' high New Water Pumphouse and the 10' high Oil/Water Separator Sheds.
- large footprints of most major structures, particularly the 22' x 201' Compressor Plant, the 250' x 28' Scrubbing Plant, the 120' x 118' Gasoline Plant and the 40' x 122' Fractionation Plant;
- Concrete Flooring in the Compressor Plant, Scrubbing Plant, Old Water Pumphouse and the Oil/Water Separator and the gravel flooring of the Fractionation Plant;
- presence of most original and historic equipment, such as the skid-mounted Joy Compressor, White 8625 engine, 72-F2 cooler, the ten Cooper-Bessemer compressors, inlet and outlet scrubbers, knockout drums and demistifiers, Girbitol Units and Triplex pumps.
- includes the Former Electric Plant/Warehouse (1920s), Carpenter Shop (probably 1920s), Lunch Room (1930s), Foamite Building (1930s), Welding Shop (probably 1940s), Workshop (1940s), Sulphur Bagging Plant (1950s), Instrument Shop (1950s), Plant Office and Lab (probably 1950s) and the New Compressor Building (1984);
- wood frame construction of all support buildings, with the exception of steel frame Workshop and Welding Shop;
- sheet metal siding on all support building walls and roofs, with the exception of the stucco-clad Plant Office and Lab;
- general subsidiary nature of the support buildings in relation to the process buildings, as evidenced by their smaller size and footprint;
- garage for firefighting equipment.