Norman Wells marked the start of the quest for Arctic oil and gas
Norman Wells, located in the Canadian Northwest Territories 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) north of Edmonton, has been operated by ExxonMobil affiliate Imperial Oil Limited since continuous production began in 1932.
When discovered in 1920 by Ted Link, an Imperial Oil geologist, Norman Wells was the world’s most northern Arctic oil field. It later became the first commercial Arctic oil field and refinery, operating continuously since 1932.
Most of the Norman Wells reservoir is located under the Mackenzie River, which is covered with ice up to two meters (seven feet) thick for seven to eight months of the year. Seasonal flooding, ice jams and scouring by thick, freshwater ice make for challenging exploration and production conditions. Some of the first applications of man-made ice islands for winter exploration drilling (1979), and the first application of gravel islands for production (1985) were employed here. Early application of extended-reach drilling technology for horizontal wells to test reservoir quality underneath the river was also employed here in the late 1970s.
Produced oil is transported through an 870-kilometer (540 miles) pipeline to Zama, in Alberta, Canada. The Norman Wells Expansion Project, completed in 1986, significantly enhanced recovery while also preserving the natural discontinuous permafrost and ensuring long-term pipeline integrity.