Wes Rabey

Wes Rabey is someone we owe a lot to in the Canadian Geophysical community. This memorial is not a list of events he did but chronicles the impact he had on our industry. This is also a reflection on the history of our industry, especially regarding seismic brokerage.

Wes was an innovator who created the first group shoot or speculative seismic survey; founded Sigma Exploration; was Past-President of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG); helped create the Geophysical Incentive Credit which drove exploration in Alberta, and helped create the first CSEG Annual Meeting.

Wes was a pioneer in many ways. He was born in Moosomin, SK, but he grew up in Manila, ON. In 1944, Wes graduated from the University of Toronto Applied Science and Engineering with an honours degree in Mining Engineering and he also received officer training in the Army Engineers.

In 1945 Wes joined Imperial, going to the US to do work in seismic and train in geophysics. Geophysics was a relatively new science back then. In 1946 Imperial ran a major seismic survey across central Alberta. Imperial had drilled 133 dry holes before and were determined to drill only one more. If it were not successful, they would give up and focus on the production of synthetic gasoline from natural gas. Wes was the first to map a large potentially oil-bearing geological anomaly that was like the Devonian formation previously found around Norman Wells, Northwest Territories. This geological structure led to the largest oil boom in Alberta (Wikipedia, 2921a; Alberta Culture and Tourism, 2021). Many people became legends in the Canadian oil industry from the drilling of that well, like Dr. Ted Link, who was Canada's most important petroleum geologist in the first half of the 20th century, and Vern “Dry Hole” Hunter, who unfortunately was involved with the drilling of the previous 133 wells (Wikipedia, 2921a).

Wes also discovered an anomaly that he thought was the most promising structure that he had seen on the prairies, which after much persuasion was developed and known as Redwater. Redwater oil field has in-place reserves of 1,300 million bbl., about 64 percent of which will be recovered. The field is a single pool 58 square miles in area along the up-dip edge of a large Late Devonian (Frasnian) limestone reef complex (Grieve, 1968).

Wes was also involved with the creation of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists. In an interview with the CSEG Wes described forming of the CSEG where he said “…a lot of the U.S. boys that were up there said, no, they didn’t think this was a good idea. But the Canadian boys that were there said, we think we want to do our own thing here and we did do it then, that was the inaugural meeting…” (Finch, 2000).

Wes also became the president of the CSEG in 1973. 1973 was a tumultuous time because we had the OPEC embargo. The Oil Embargo affected Canada’s economy and the Canadian federal government responded by:

  • Setting limits on the price of oil
  • Began building a plant to extract synthetic oil from oil sands (Syncrude)
  • Petro-Canada, a national oil company was created

Premier Peter Lougheed also decided to change the take that the provincial government got in royalties, and just unilaterally changed the royalty rates and imposed them on the industry. In response to Premier Lougheed changing the provincial royalties, three new CSEG committees were formed: Government Relations, Statistics, and Future Directions.

Wes and Jack Pullen (Jack spent 26-years as a geophysicist with Hudson’s Bay Oil & Gas Company and in 1981, joined Suncor, eventually becoming Vice President of Exploration; he passed in 2018) formulated letters to the Alberta government. The letters did not change anything, but they showed them that the CSEG was objecting on a unilateral basis. As Wes said it was “…hard for an oil company to do, but we as a group could do that because it was affecting our jobs” (Finch, 2000).

Wes wanted a Government Relations Committee because he saw when the industry had a boom people were hired people right, left and centre, but in a downturn, these people were being let go. Good technical people were leaving the industry during the downturns and going off to other industries, and never came back to the geophysical industry. When we had another boom a bunch of greener people were hired and trained, but we lost good valuable information with the people that had left before (Finch, 2000).

The Government Relations Committee was formed to try and put forth the views of most of the society members. The Government Relations Committee also prepared a brief for the Alberta government suggesting that a geophysical incentives program be adopted in the province, similar to the drilling incentives that were created in 1974 to keep the oil industry from dying.

Wes’ argument was that it was the people with the seismic data that told the drilling people where to drill, so if you increased the exploration activity you would have more oil and gas discoveries and in turn, it would result in more royalties being collected by the provincial government. The argument was successful, and oil and gas producers were paid by royalty deductions, and seismic companies were paid cash (Geophysical Incentive Credit or GIC) (Larson & Swalwell, 2005). Barry Korchinski, who passed in 2017, recalled in a CSEG Recorder article how one of the GIC 2D lines that started near Lloydminster and went west showed a remarkable anomaly west of Drayton Valley, and the West Pembina pinnacle play was born for Chevron (Larson & Swalwell, 2005).

Wes was also instrumental in starting the first annual CSEG Convention. These days it is the GeoConvention and it is co-hosted by the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (CSPG), the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG), and the Canadian Well Logging Society (CWLS).

The CSEG has a lot to be thankful for because of all that Wes had done for us, and we know his family has also sacrificed so he could do this for our organization. It takes a lot of dedication to do accomplish so much.

Wes was also very successful in his career.

Wes started Accurate Geophysical in 1950 and in 1952 Wes had only one crew contracted and two with nothing to do. So he decided that there was a need for regional coverage and proposed the idle crews would record a “correlation” shoot in Alberta, which consisted of one record (1320 foot E-W split spread) every two miles along every east-west road allowance, which resulted in an extremely sparse 3-D image of the subsurface. In addition, at every township corner, they would conduct an uphole survey using a 300 ft hole. Wes priced the shoot so he would break even with seven participants but could only get six. So he shot it anyway, trusting that it would be valuable data and other companies would eventually come around and buy it, and they did. This was the first group shoot.

He also revolutionized seismic brokerage. In the early days, most of the transactions were direct transactions on a mile-for-mile basis between the owners of seismic data. Someone from Chevron would contact Imperial and ask if they had data in a particular area and then they would work out a deal where they would trade data on a mile-for-mile or record-record basis.

Wes decided that he could be a seismic data broker, but instead of using data for the exchange, he would use money. It really simplified the transactions and had the added benefit of allowing the smaller companies to get data. Wes was told by just about everyone that it wouldn’t work because ‘We don’t do business that way’, but soon, most companies jumped on board the new brokerage model (Larson & Swalwell, 2005).

In 1966 Wes founded Sigma Exploration, who are still around to this day.

In 1978 Wes founded an oil company, Petroventures, which continued until 1994 when its assets were sold to Questar Resources Corp. and he retired.

It wasn’t the last we would hear from Wes; he was CTV Calgary’s Athlete of the week at the age of 92 in 2014. In 1964, Wes started to work out. Hope I am as active as Wes was at 94.

Wes’ story is one of dedication and inspiration, we will miss him and thank him for being an innovator, a leader, and a role model.



About the Author(s)


Alberta Culture and Tourism, 2021, Conventional Oil. Alberta Culture and Tourism http://history.alberta.ca/energyheritage/oil/the-leduc-era-1947-to-1970s/preparation-for-the-leduc-discovery/default.aspx.

Finch, D., 2000, PETROLEUM INDUSTRY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT TRANSCRIPT - CSEG Presidency. https://glenbow.ucalgary.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/PIOHP_Rabey_Wes_CSEG.pdf

Grieve, R.O., 1968, Upper Devonian Reef Oil Field—Redwater, Alberta, Canada. AAPG Bulletin (1968) 52 (3): 529–530.https://doi.org/10.1306/5D25C33F-16C1-11D7-8645000102C1865D.

Larson, R., and Swalwell, C., 2995, The Canadian Seismic Data Brokerage Business. CSEG Recorder, https://csegrecorder.com/articles/view/the-canadian-seismic-data-brokerage-business

Wikipedia, 2021a, Leduc No. 1. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leduc_No._1


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