The University of Calgary has struck black gold.
Mineral rights to a title of land were gifted to the U of C four years ago from an estate donation. Uncovered in the fall of 2007, professors and students in the geoscience department have been studying the land and their research suggests extractable oil deposits.
"We have two one-by-one mile sections of land, and we own all the mineral rights to all the energy resources except coal," said geophysics professor Dr. Rob Stewart, who is leading the investigation into the land.
The land itself is near the town of Spring Coulee, about 50 kilometres south of Lethbridge. From the beginning, students in the geoscience department have played an integral role in the research.
"Once we saw the area we started working up the energy potential in our undergrad class," said Stewart. "We gave it out as an exercise. We went down in early January and conducted a very extensive seismic sounding as a university research project."
While drilling for oil remains a future prospect, the educational impact for students involved is immediate.
"This is completely different than what I was doing before," said second-year masters student Lauren Ostridge, who is helping Stewart interpret the data. "It's more relevant to industry at the moment and what I can be doing when I graduate."
Stewart agreed, noting the hands on benefits for all involved.
"It's exciting for the students to really work on something that has a point," he said. "The better we can train our students, the better chance they'll have later on."
The boon extends not only to Geoscience students, but other disciplines as well. Stewart and the department hope to acquire surface rights to the land and perhaps create a multi-purpose field school and hostel on the site.
"We could use it as an experimental site not just for science students, but for engineering students, for management students, for biology students," said Stewart. "There is lot of potential as a university test site."
Some worry that exploiting the site for economic gain might hamper the benefit for students, although those involved don't think that will be the case.
"It's definitely more a tool right now for student learning as opposed to revenue," said U of C senior director of communications Colleen Turner.
Both the scientists agreed that, no matter what, the site is a huge gain for students.
"By actually drilling something, we could find out all about the rocks and make it into an even better laboratory," said Stewart.
Ostridge noted that either way it is still a benefit to all those that have a stake in the discovery.
"It will still be an extremely valuable tool to the university whether we end up drilling or not," she said.
As for the next step, more research is required. For Stewart and his department, the future is bright.
"There's all kinds of possibilities, all the way from making money for the university to developing better practices for more green production," he said.
As for the financial benefit, Stewart said only time will tell.
"It could be anything from interesting research and zero [income] to potentially a lot of money--millions," said Stewart.