Geologic History

Exploring major events in time

Wood Buffalo is located near the eastern side of Alberta’s exposed portion of the Canadian Shield; a vast layer of igneous rock that covers large portions of northern Canada.  Geological surveys of the area have revealed insights into the region’s past and include fossil findings that confirm the prior existence of dinosaurs. The area is also rich in mining resources of varying degrees of accessibility and value, of which bitumen or “oilsand” is the most famous.  On observing the immense supply of bitumen, the chronicler of the 1889 Geological Survey of Canada’s Liard expedition astutely noted:

“that this region is stored with a substance of great economic value is beyond all doubt, and when the hour of development comes, it will, I believe, prove to be one of the wonders of northern Canada.”

The exact origin of the oil that led to today's bitumen deposits is debated.  Geologists point to Mesozonic era source rocks found in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin from which light oil formed and later flowed towards present day Wood Buffalo where it mixed with sand.  It is proposed that large areas of bitumen were eventually exposed close to the surface north of Fort McMurray after catastrophic run-off from the huge glacial lake, Agassiz, flooded through the area at the end of the last ice age.