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Ian McLaren Cook
Ian Cook was a prominent Calgary geologist in the early days of Alberta’s modern oil era, but circumstances brought him to the province’s energy regulator rather than the corporate side
Ian graduated from the University of Alberta in 1940 with a bachelor’s degree in geology, and it was while he was working on his masters’ degree that his mentor, Dr. R.L. Rutherford (at the time, Canada’s chief mineralogist), arranged for him to continue his education in the field with the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB).
In September 1940, Ian was hired by the ERCB as a production engineer in Turner Valley, but health concerns prompted the board to move him to Calgary the following spring. It was, in hindsight, a move that perhaps changed the path of Ian’s career.
As one of two geologists with the board, Ian exercised a certain amount of influence, particularly with respect to matters geological, and he was continually frustrated with the lack of continuity in data collection imposed on the industry by the ERCB.
He demanded that all samples and cores from all wells drilled in the province be submitted to the board for preservation, and in 1942 the board ordered all operators absorb the expense of having these sent to Calgary. At about the same time, plans were drawn up for a core storage laboratory—construction was delayed by the war, but was eventually built and remains as the model for similar facilities around the world.
In 1943, Ian set his sights on well logs—insisting, as he did for cores, that this data must be preserved and made accessible to anyone in the industry. The board agreed, and the seeds for yet another industry-standard information service were sown. And not only was Ian concerned about protecting drilling information. He also had things to say about the widespread practice of flaring gas from oil reservoirs. Gas caps, he argued, were not waste by-products of oil production, but were a valuable resource that should be protected and utilized. Again, the board listened.
Ian left the board in 1945 and went to the private sector, where he worked for British American Petroleum (which pre-dated Gulf and ConocoPhillips) before moving to Union Oil of California in 1948. Later that year, he came to the attention of the Hunt family, briefly consulting for Hunt on one project before joining Stanolind (later Pan American Petroleum) in 1949. Following a brief stint at Stanolind, Ian struck out on his own as a consulting geologist, and an early key client was again the Hunt family.
“In this capacity he worked with Hunt Interest, who finally prevailed upon him to join and serve on a full-time basis, being responsible for all Hunt Oil Company and Placid Oil Company Canadian exploration projects in the 1950s and early 1960s,” writes W. Herbert Hunt in a letter supporting Ian’s Hall of Fame nomination.
Ian’s list of successes while at Hunt is an extensive one, and includes discoveries at Redwater, Swan Hills, Ferris, and Fort St. John, but his real love remained the Devonian reefs of west-central Alberta, which he studied extensively. His detailed mapping and delineation led to Hunt Oil’s Buffalo Lake discovery in 1958, a pinnacle reef field that has produced more than 10 million barrels of oil and is still producing.
He was recognized in the mid-1950s as one of North America’s leading experts on the Devonian formation, and his paper, “The Upper Devonian Stratigraphy of the Alberta Plains Area,” has been published by the American Institute of Geologists, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and, on more than one occasion, by the United States Geological Survey.
Ian is a lifelong member of the Geological Association of Canada, the Alberta Society of Petroleum Geologists (known now as the CSPG), the Alberta Society of Engineers, the American Institute of Professional Geologists, the American Association of Professional Geologists, the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta, and the Calgary Petroleum Club.
“Ian McLaren Cook was a pioneer, accomplished geologist, explorationist, and leader in the Canadian oil industry,” Hunt wrote. “He certainly deserves posthumously being recognized by the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame Society.”