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Leo Cavanagh

Involvement in Oil Industry

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Leo came to Lloydminster seeking employment in May 1947. A roommate at the University of Saskatchewan had advised Leo, "go earn your fortune in the oil business". Leo caught a ride to Lloydminster with Professor Edmunds from the U. of S., who was also a consulting geologist in this area.

Leo started work with Husky on the construction crew of the refinery in May 1947. At the startup in July 1947 he became an operator. People from Cody, Wyoming came up for the first year to teach staff how to operate the refinery. The Sales Manager/Vice-President was Art Knight. He was one of the first executives sent up. He worked out of an office in Saskatoon. Peter Campbell came up a bit later and was Leo's first Refinery boss.

The main product of the refinery was Bunker C. They began to make easy grades of asphalt - because of the equipment they had, that's all they could make.

In those days, the oil went from the well to a small holding tank in the field, then it was trucked to the refinery. The Husky Refinery and the Excelsior Refinery had the only treating equipment in the business (there were limited field treating facilities).


Leo has vivid recollections of the difficulties delivering crude and delivering it on a steady basis. He recalls that the field would pretty well shut down in the winter because of the bad roads and lack of demand for product. There were layoffs every fall and the refinery ran with a small staff. Every spring was road ban season and they wouldn't let trucks on the road. In early summer staff were brought back on. The refinery could only take a limited amount of oil. They would have to stop taking crude oil when there wasn't a demand for asphalt.

He remembers getting calls in the a.m. to shut down production and calls in the p. m. to start up again when they got another contract.

He also commented on the tremendous, twice daily movement of tank cars which carried the bunker fuel. The cars carried the fuel mostly for the CNR and some for the CPR. On occasion they did receive some tank car crude from Lone Rock.

Leo also recalls that fires were a fairly regular occurrence in those days.

There were many problems due to severe winter weather. Nobody had operated a heavy crude to asphalt refinery in this country before.

The effluent from the crude treating plant was drained into holding ponds. The theory was that the oil would collect on the top and the salt water would be pumped out from below back into the formation. Since they didn't have any other means of handling the oil, they would ignite the skim of oil on the top and burn it off. This was common practice in those days. With time, improved methods were found.

When Husky came to Lloydminster, it was the first time producers had much of a market. In the heavy oil business you had to have a near at hand consumer - for the first time producers had place to put oil close to home.

A lot of experimentation took place here. Until Lloydminster, a lot of people didn't know much about heavy oil.

Leo also has recollections of Husky's involvement in the asphalt manufacturing industry in Canada. They developed an enviable name for research and development and their desire to improve. They were trying to find new uses for product. Vic Juba was in charge of the lab and development of products. He was a National Asphalt Association representative. Husky also had an advantage in that they had asphalt-based crude.

Leo recalls the testing that took place when they were looking into pipelining heavy crude oil. There were summer tests, winter tests, looking at different line sizes and their possibilities and capabilities. Different blends of light oils and heavy crude were tried. These tests were forerunners of the Hardisty to Lloydminster yo-yo pipeline which brought light condensate north and took Lloyd-Blend south for injection into the InterProvincial pipeline and delivery to eastern Canada and points in the United States.