Crude Oil and Natural Gas Resources

Crude oil and natural gas in Ontario has been discovered in commercial quantities in a total of over 300 separate "pools".


Pools (or reservoirs) are accumulations of oil or natural gas, either alone or in combination with each other or water, contained within subsurface formations of sedimentary rock, The hydrocarbons and water occupy spaces or pores within the rock and are prevented from escaping by overlying and adjacent layers of relatively non-porous and impermeable rock. Droplets of oil and natural gas will generally migrate upwards until they escape at the surface or are arrested in a "trap" to form an oil or natural gas pool. Many different types of traps or structures have resulted in the accumulation of hydrocarbons. Information about traps can be found at the Discovery Education Centre.


Most of these pools occur in southern Ontario, as indicated on the map below. These pools occur in several different formations of bedrock at depths ranging from 100 to over 1100 metres below the surface.

Map indicating location of crude oil and natural gas pools in Southern Ontario

Image showing the crude oil and natural gas pools in Southern Ontario


Sedimentary Rocks and Basins

All crude oil, natural gas and salt produced in Ontario are found in geological structures known as sedimentary basins. A sedimentary basin is a depression in the Earth's crust which was flooded by shallow seas in the geologic past, and within which sediments have accumulated and lithified into rocks over very long periods of time. Four sedimentary basins are found in Ontario; the Michigan and Appalachian basins in southern Ontario separated by a ridge known as the Algonquin Arch, and the Moose River and Hudson Bay basins in northern Ontario (see figure below). Although all of these basins have potential for occurrence of oil, gas and salt resources, to date production has only occurred in southern Ontario.


The sedimentary rocks in southern Ontario are tilted towards the Michigan Basin to the west and the Appalachian Basin to the south. As a result, they range in thickness from 0 metres north of Lake Simcoe and Kingston to nearly 1400 metres in the Sarnia area and beneath Lake Erie.


Map of sedimentary basins of OntarioSedimentary Basins
  of Ontario

 1. Canadian Shield
 2. Algonquin Arch
 3. Hudson Bay Basin
 4. Moose River Basin
 5. Michigan Basin
 6. Appalachian Basin
 7. Limit of sedimentary rocks























Industry Overview

In 2009 there were 96 commercial oil and gas producers in Ontario. There were 1200 active oil wells1300 commercial natural gas wells and 500 private gas wells. 500 of the gas wells were located offshore on Crown land under Lake. In 2010 there were 13 onshore surface locations located in Romney and Colchester Townships from which 23 horizontal well bores were drilled and producing oil and gas from under the bed of Lake Erie.


About 50 new oil and gas wells are drilled in southern Ontario each year and, on average, 100 depleted wells are plugged every year.


Production from Ontario's crude oil and natural gas reservoirs accounts for approximately 1% of Ontario's annual domestic consumption of crude oil and 2% of Ontario's annual domestic consumption of natural gas. All of Ontario's crude oil and natural gas production is consumed within Ontario. About 88,000 cubic meters of crude oil with a wellhead value of $50 million was produced in Ontario in 2009. This is enough to provide fuel for 40,000 cars annually.


In 2008 approximately 240 million cubic meters of natural gas with a retail value of $80 million was produced in Ontario. This is enough to heat 105,000 homes annually.


It is estimated that there is 30 million cubic meters of remaining potential (undiscovered) resources of crude oil remaining in Ontario compared to 14.1 million cubic metres already produced. Most of the remaining undiscovered resources of crude oil lie on Crown lands under Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair and Lake Ontario. It is estimated that the remaining undiscovered resources of natural gas in the province are approximately 35 billion cubic meters compared to cumulative production of 36.5 billion cubic metres to the end of 2009. This means, Ontario has potential natural gas resources equal to what has already been recovered over the years. Most of the remaining natural gas lies on Crown land under Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake St. Clair and Lake Huron.


Origin of Oil and Natural Gas

Shallow seas covered all of what is now southern Ontario from approximately 300 million to 545 million years ago. During most of this time Ontario was located 20 to 35 degrees south of the equator and these seas were home to a prolific collection of marine life. As generations of marine organisms died, their organic and skeletal remains settled to the sea bottom. As these organic materials, rich in carbon and hydrogen, became more deeply buried they were subjected to greater and greater temperatures and pressures which eventually transformed them into oil and natural gas. The sediments enclosing them lithified into sedimentary rocks. These "hydrocarbons" are buoyant and migrated along and through layers of porous and permeable rock until they either reached the surface as a seep or were trapped by a barrier of less permeable rocks to form a pool or reservoir.


Image of layered sedimentary rock in Niagara River gorgeLayered ancient sedimentary rocks exposed in the gorge of the Niagara River. The rocks exposed here were deposited in a warm, shallow sea that covered large parts of eastern North America between 444 and 427 million years ago. Several of the rock layers visible here are important sources of natural gas in the subsurface of southern Ontario and adjacent states of the United States. The photo looks upstream/south towards the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario and is 5.5 km downstream from the Horseshoe and American Falls. The Whirlpool Rapids are visible in the middle distance flowing into the Whirlpool at the right side of the photo. At this point the gorge is 350 m wide and it is approximately 80 m to water level from the top of the gorge.


History of Hydrocarbon Exploitation in Ontario

North America's first commercial crude oil well was completed in 1858 in Oil Springs, Lambton County, Ontario, when James Miller Williams dug the site of an oil seep and struck oil at sixty feet. The search for "black gold" was underway in Canada and the area became a place of sudden wealth, similar to the California or Klondike gold rushes. With increased activity, deeper drilling produced wells with initial flows of 2,000 to 5,000 barrels per day.


Natural gas was discovered in 1866 and Ontario's first commercial natural gas well was drilled in Essex County near Leamington in 1889. Natural gas was also commercially produced from under the bed of Lake Erie as early as 1913. Since then, many more crude oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in Ontario. It is estimated that more than 50,000 wells have been drilled in Ontario to date.


Commercial reservoirs of oil and gas have been discovered in several different formations in the subsurface of southern Ontario, at depths varying from 100 to over 1100 metres.


Petroleum Products in our daily lives

Oil and natural gas does a lot more than simply provide fuel for our cars and trucks, keep our homes and offices comfortable, and power our industries. Petrochemicals derived from crude oil and natural gas are used in making thousands of products that make our lives easier, and in many cases, help us live better and longer lives. From lipstick to aspirin and diapers to roller blades, petrochemicals play a vital part in daily living. The houses we live in, and the factories and office buildings we work in, are all made with petroleum products. Canada’s largest petrochemical complex is located in the Sarnia area.


Find out more about petroleum products in construction and other interesting petroleum facts at the Discovery Education Centre website.