Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dr J F Caley of the GSC

and the Athabasca Tar Sands 1960

Fifty years ago, during an exclusive interview, I spent a pleasant and fascinating morning listening to Dr. J F Caley, a senior member of the Geological Survey of Canada, outline his personal thoughts on how best to extract the oil from the Athabscan tar sands.

A very engaging and soft-spoken gentleman-geologist, Dr Caley amazed me, first by stating that the Alberta oil sands were of greater potential than the deposits of Saudi Arabia, and then secondly, by his particular hopes for their development.

Dr. Caley, with paper and pencil, sketched out a plan involving the drilling of a deep hole down into the centre of the tar sands and exploding a suitably-sized atomic bomb far underground.

His theory was that that an enormous subterranean saucer-shaped cavern would be created with walls lined with a thick and hard glasslike deposit of atomized rock. He predicted that the oil, heated from the atomic blast and largely freed from the sand particles, would drain and flown into this huge basin. From there, in time, it could be pumped to the surface for commercial processing.

Whatever became of Dr Caley’s idea? I suppose the exigencies at that time of keeping the delicate balance between the cold war opponents under stable control was of greater importance then than was the balance between domestic and middle-eastern oil resources.

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