Words of a Pioneer: Part One

I recently had the opportunity to sit with Wes Rabey and madly scribble notes as he reminisced about his long and noteworthy career. After fact-checking my scrawl with an excellent online interview with Wes, I wanted to pass on some of the early experiences that helped to create Sigma.

It turns out that Wes Rabey had made quite a name for himself even before Sigma. After starting as a mining engineer, Wes decided to move to Imperial Oil because mining was only seasonal work.  Wes worked on seismic crews – which were a bit different in the mid 1940’s – and soon found himself on the interpretation in the field as the crews shot in Saskatchewan. After the newly elected CCF party introduced legislation that chased the oil industry out of Saskatchewan (are you listening out there, governments?), the crews moved to Wainwright where, for the first time, seismic was acquired in winter.

Shooting the first seismic line

These were the early days of seismic acquisition and when Wes gained his formative experiences. He started on the crew that shot a long seismic line over an area better known today as the Leduc, Woodbend and Wizard Lake oilfields (among others).

According to Wes, if Imperial had drilled on all the anomalies that line was shot over, they would have discovered billions of barrels of oil. Not bad for the first seismic line shot in the area!

However, the reality at the time was that the seismic was highly experimental, crews had little understanding of the shallow subsurface and its impact on acquisition, and the geometry led to very low fold seismic which gave just a hint of what was underground. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that Imperial didn’t go all in on that line.

During this period, while shooting northeast of Edmonton, Wes discovered what he thought was a large anomaly in the Redwater area. Excited about his finding, Wes sent his maps to an experienced geophysicist in Calgary for confirmation. Upon review, Wes’ interpretation was shot down for being ‘inconsistent’ with what head office believed. As a relatively inexperienced interpreter, Wes went back to his work. Though try as he might, Wes couldn’t convince himself that the anomaly wasn’t real. When the party chief went on vacation, Wes swung a covert deal to get a higher quality seismic line over the area.

It confirmed his interpretation.

When the party chief returned, Wes presented his results only to find that instead of being celebrated for his discovery, he was in a lot of trouble for having hijacked a seismic crew without permission! Worried that his burgeoning career was about to end, Wes waited for his punishment. However, upon seeing his newly confirmed interpretation, Wes was immediately sent to Calgary for a big promotion, overseeing three crews out of the head office.

The start of a new chapter

Wes had discovered the Redwater field, received a big promotion, and was moving to head office. More importantly, he realized that his ideas were as valuable as anyone else’s. It was a thrilling time! There was only one problem: Wes was days away from getting married, and had already picked out a first home in Edmonton.

Finding a place to live in Calgary was hard, so Imperial gave Wes a full day off to get married to Joan in Saskatoon. The newlyweds headed to Calgary and lived in a hotel for three weeks while Wes started a new job and looked for someplace to live. Wes was now in the city where he would define his career, and start his married life. It was 1946.