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The Canol Project Was Imperative

Introduction: The Canol Project: Oil for Victory

Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta) - Monday, December 20, 1943, Page 1

The Canol Project Was Imperative - 1943 newspaper article

    WASHINGTON. - Lt.-Gen. Brehon Somervell testified Monday that the $130,000,000 Canol oil development in northwest Canada was made imperatively necessary by "the desperate outlook" of the war in the dark days of 1942.

    Opposing the recommendations of the War Production board chairman, Donald M. Nelson, and Petroleum Administrator Ickes, who have advocated junking the project about which they said they were not consulted, Somervell told the senate Truman committee:

    "Any inference or statement made that the Canol project was handled in a cavalier fashion and without reference to my associates is entirely without foundation."

    Somervell said he had discussed the project with members of the general staff concerned and that it was "entirely outside Mr. Nelson's jurisdiction."

    "There was no setup in his organization at that time in a position to help us and with jurisdiction outside the United States," declared Somervell, who ordered the development.

    As for Ickes, the chief of the army's Service of Supply declared, "practically the same thing was true."

    "It was entirely outside his jurisdiction," the witness continued.

    "We had all the data. In the petroleum co-ordinator's office as it existed at that time, there were no petroleum men available to help us."

Defends Against Criticism

    Somervell defended the project against repeated criticism of it by Chairman Harry Truman (Dem., Mo.).

    He consumed an hour in an effort to show that the decision to drill wells at Norman Wells, N.W.T., and build a pipeline to Whitehorse, Yukon, and a refinery at the latter point, all at United States expense, was "sound."

    He went next into the "feasibility" of the project and outlined later discussion of whether it was constructed "competently," whether it should be expanded and finally whether the post-war interests of the United States are "protected."

    Even today, looking at it from "hindside" judgment, he declared the conclusion that it should have be undertaken appeared "inescapable."

    "Those were desperate days, indeed," he said. "In December, 1941, we had lost the fleet, as an offensive weapon; it was out of the picture for months to come," he asserted.

"Great Public Anxiety"

    Detailing the mounting losses, the shelling of "west coast refineries by a Japanese submarine." and the subsequent landing of shells in Oregon, he said there was "great public anxiety on the east and west coasts."

    "There were unfortunate possibilities of raids - not alarms," he declared.

    He detailed then the decision to develop the oil fields at Fort Norman as a nearby source of oil and gasoline for the defence of Alaska.

    American sources at Port Barrow, and elsewhere, he declared, were considered "too exposed."

    "The security of the whole Pacific was in jeopardy and danger," he continued.

    He said Gen. Pyron, his oil expert, and others recommended the development of the Norman fields for whatever they would produce and he recommended the project along with oil development in New Zealand.

Alaska Under Threat

    "Alaska was under threat," he asserted, "We needed the oil. Everything pointed conclusively to the decision. It looks as if it was the only thing to do."

    Allied chiefs of staff have made the Canol developments an essential part of their grand strategy for a global offensive war, Somervell declared.

    "It is not a question of completing the project, in my mind," he said. "It ls a question for expansion. I have no doubt funds will be sought for expansion soon."

Oil Starts Flowing

    Somervell disclosed that oil started through pipelines at the Norman Wells field last week.

    "We might as well have gotten off Tarawa after having killed all but one squad of Japs as to get out of there (Canol) now," he said.

"Fortunately we struck oil far inn excess of our wildest expectations," he declared. "It is certain to be a 50,000,000 barrel field and probably a 100,000,000 field."

    Somervell said $24,000,000 remains to be spent on the Canol project, including $8,500,000 for oil prospecting.

    "We want to develop all the oil we can for the war and we want reserves for ourselves when the war is over."

    He termed Canol "the biggest oil field that has been discovered in the North American continent in 15 years."

    He said the armed forces are particularly short of high test gasoline such as can e produced at the army's project.