Atlas 2027 represents the mammoth undertaking to renew the classic 1994 Geological Atlas of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, published by the CSPG and Alberta Research Council, predecessor to a key patron of the current project, the Alberta Geological Survey. Like that previous atlas, this version will take seven years to compile, require the support from multiple agencies, and thousands of hours commitment from hundreds of authors and volunteers. Combined with the data of hundreds of thousands of wells, outcrop observations, and remote sensing, the final result will be one of the most extensive geological treatises ever published.

Figure 1: The area covered by the Atlas would rank 113th in list of countries, just above Mexico. The new atlas will expand the bounds of the old, extending through the McKenzie Corridor.

The Geological Atlas of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin has been an essential tool for geologists working the basin for 27 years. Its job was simple, to give the reader a first understanding of the rich geological history of the basin from British Columbia to Manitoba, region by region, layer by layer, from the Precambrian to Quaternary. By fulfilling that simple role of enabling access to the best scientific knowledge, the 1994 geological atlas has played a significant part in the development of the basin – and in turn, the profits of many organizations, the provinces, and the country. Following on from the original publication in 1964, the Atlas that many are familiar with is the second incarnation, published on May 9th 1994. Its 510 oversized pages filled a vacuum by pulling in large-scale context to the areas throughout the basin. This broad, regional perspective was often missed in scientific papers pursuing brevity, forcing the student to seek a narrative through multiple, disjointed sources. With the release of the 1994 Atlas, geoscientists unfamiliar with an area now had a reliable source of the highest quality information, formatted and expressed in a consistent form throughout the document.

Resource targets have changed in the intervening years since the 1994 edition. At that time, heavy oil plays at Fort McMurray were in their infancy, coal bed methane potential had yet to be fully realized; similarly, shale gas had yet to become major component of the basin. More recent shifts in resource focus to reflect the interest in green energy is also changing where and how we explore the basin, whether it be for products such as hydrogen, helium, and lithium, or processes such as geothermal energy and carbon storage. These factors have highlighted the need for a new edition of the Atlas, one that incorporates the historic values of the previous two editions but looks to the future.

Figure 2: Atlas, Mark II, 1994. A five fold increase in the number of wells between 1964 and 1994 led the need for the second version of the Atlas. A similar expansion has since occurred.

Among the many drivers to produce a third iteration is the massive increase in available data, gathered from almost three decades of academic research and a tripling of well data, often targeting areas that were sparse of data in the previous versions, such as those related to deeper water facies. Authors of the new Atlas will also be able to take advantage of advancements in data manipulation and GIS techniques that allow large volumes of geological data to be processed and inspected for quality in a fraction of the time and using a fraction of the human resources that would have been available in 1994.

Like its 1964 and 1994 predecessors, Atlas 2027 will be ‘open information’, with the target of being available to anyone who needs the data. For this reason, it will primarily be an online entity, but will be much more than the static PDF delivery that is currently available with the existing Atlas (available through both the AGS and the CSPG websites). Gigabytes of data presented in the maps and cross-sections will be openly available for download, usable on multiple platforms.

This third edition will also fill in some gaps evident from the previous. This time, the Mackenzie Corridor will be included to reach the true northern extent of the western Canada basins, supported in no small part by the Geological Survey of Canada and the Northwest Territories and Yukon Geological Surveys (see Figure 1). As of the summer of 2021, a series of committees have been formed to oversee the initial development stages for the Atlas. Fifty-five chapters have been proposed, led by a team of over a hundred authors, from a diverse mix of government agencies, academic institutions, private companies, and enthusiastic individuals. As the project develops, each of the chapters will require further assistance from a variety of talents such as graphic arts, editing, document layout, GIS developers – to name a few.

The Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists celebrates its centenary in 2027 and a new edition of the Geological Atlas – a publication that is the embodiment of the CSPG’s mandate to educate and assist its members – is a fitting tribute to the work of the organization’s staff and countless volunteers of the past 100 years.