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An Important Industry in Linlithgow

 

The mineral oil trade of Scotland is one which is highly to the credit of the commercial enterprise of he sons. Previous to 1858 it had no existence. Now there are twelve large companies prosecuting the manufacture of oil from shale; producing 60,000,000 gallons of crude oil per annum. The financial importance of the industry in the country is great, for the capital invested in it is not less than 3.5 millions sterling; and in connection with it employment is, of course, found for very large numbers of men. One of the youngest, but not on that account the least important, of the oil companies is that which has planted its works near Linlithgow, and has done something to waken from the drowsiness of centuries the ancient Royal burgh, and to infuse into it a dash of modern activities and life. Not a few of the miners and other workmen in the service of the Oil Company have taken up their abode in the town, while the new cottages, at Kingscavil and Bridgend, are near at hand to send into the burgh, especially on a Saturday evening, a sufficiently large contingent of men with money in their pockets to make an appreciable different to the the trading interest of the place. The quiet which settled on the town by the Loch when its ancient palace was burned may for the present be said to have fled; and its staid Provost and burghers will no doubt make up their mind to accommodate themselves to the altered circumstances in which the town now finds itself by planting at its doors of a busy hive of industrial enterprise.

The first search for minerals in this locality took place about four years ago, but it was not until May 1884 that the Linlithgow Oil Company was formed. The spot on which they have reared their works is situated about two and a half miles to the east of the town, partly on the lands of Champfleurie, belonging to Captain Johnstone Stewart, and partly on Ochiltree – on the rising ground hemming in the Haugh Burn and near the farmhouse of Bridgend. Three years ago these fields were a verdant pasture. Now about 40 acres are covered with the various buildings, machinery, and appliances for extracting and refining the oil above ground; and not far short of 800 men all told, find remunerative and steady work in connection therewith. There is quite a little romance in connection with the finding of the shale in this district. The original lessees discovered bits of the oleaginous mineral in the Haugh Burn, and on diligent search being made, they were rewarded by finding the outcrop of the three principal seams of the county – the Broxburn, the Dunnet, and the Fell, as also the outcrop of the Houston Coal, all of which, as the phrase goes, might almost have been covered by a cocked hat, so near were they to each other.

Two incline mines have been sunk and follow the dip of the Broxburn shale – No.1 being on Champfleurie and No.2 on Ochiltree. The offices and works for getting the crude oil are on the north side of the burn, while the refineries cooperage, and large storage tanks are on the south side, the whole being arranged on a gently sloping ground that the various processes in the two departments are facilitate by the operation of the laws of gravitation. The extent of the mineral field held by the company may be put down at 3000 acres (one part of it not yet tapped being situated on the estate of Kingsfield, belonging to the Earl of Hopetoun), and virtually commands the shale country from the Bathgate hills to the Forth. The output of the Company was at the rate of 250 tons daily, the wages paid amounting to something like £1000 a week. The circulation of such an amount of money cannot fail to benefit the district.

Between the works and Linlithgow station, a substantially-built railway has been laid down, over which the Company's locomotives and plant are constantly passing, and on which the men residing at Linlithgow are conveyed to and from their work at stated hours of the day and night. The traffic to and from the works has greatly taxed the accommodation for goods at Linlithgow Station, and it is understood that the North British Railway Company are engaged in devising measures for the enlargement of the area on which mineral and goods waggons can be accommodated. The little village of Kingscavil or Champfleurie has been enlarged by the addition to it of now fewer than 106 neat brick cottages which the Company has erected for the housing of its workmen. Their presence there has necessitated the erection of a school; a small mission church in connection with Linlithgow parish has also been built, a large general store has been opened, an a transformation effected in a short time, similar to what one reads of in the mining or newly-settled districts of America. The village of Bridgend has likewise had its house accommodation considerably added to by the Company, and here too a new school had been built. The total increase to the population of the district has been not far short of 2500 souls.

At the present time No.1 mine, by means of which the Broxburn shale is got, has an incline shaft about 220 fathoms in length, which represents a vertical depth from the top of 65 fathoms. The seam here has an average thickness of 6ft 6 inches. The dip is 1 in 3, while in the other mine the incline is 1 in 3.5 to 4. The excellent ventilation of the mines is effected by means of fans; and arrangements are being made for joining the two together, which will still further improve it as also facilitate the transit of the shale. Pumping gear, working 16 hours a day, effectually keeps the mines clear of water. From the "breaker" which is situated at the pit-head on Champfleurie, and is capable of dealing with 800 tons of minerals in a day, the shale is carried in hutches, working on and endless change, to the top of the retorts, which are of two kinds; the Henderson patent and the Young & Bielby patent.

The principal of which the oil is extracted from the shale is so well known that next to nothing need be said about it, further than to point our the difference between the older and the newer patents. In the Henderson retort, which is the older of the two, and is made of iron, the shale is subjected to great heat from below; and the steam which takes up the oil vapours given off by the shale, is introduced at the top. The Young & Bielby retorts, on the other hand, are built of brick and are entirely "fired" by means of gas, which plays around them in a chamber immediately outside that in which the shale is distilling. The steam in this case is introduced from below, and the effect of the higher heat to which the Young and Bielby retorts are subjected is that the shale, while producing the same quantity of oil, gives off nearly double the quantity of ammoniacal liquor, which is a very valuable product. In the process of distillation, the shale gives off a large quantity of incondensable gas, which is led into pipes, and returned to the gas chamber, to which allusion had been made, to be burned. Coal gas is also used – that being manufactured in a chamber which is included in the nest of retorts. It is not unworthy to note that something like four or five millions of cubic feet of gas are made in the twenty-four hours in the shale retorts, and sent into the gas chambers to be burned. In the case of both the retorts the steam charged with the oil vapours is led to the condensers, consisting of many miles of pipes erected in the vertical and horizontal clusters, and is cooled oit in the shale of crude oil and ammoniacal liquor. The former goes to the refineries and ultimately, after undergoing washes with acid and soda and re-distillation, gets transformed into the burning and lubricating oils and paraffin scale of commerce; while the ammoniacal liquor is converted into the valuable manurial product known a s sulphate of ammonia, which a few years ago was quoted at £20 a ton, but now fetches £11 a ton. In all there are six benches of Henderson retorts. Four with 52 retorts in each, and two with 56; while the two Young and Bielby benches contain 80 retorts each, making a total of 480 retorts in active operation daily. At the refineries to which the crude oil is conveyed by railway waggons, the appliance are all of the most approved kind, but there are no novel features calling special notice.

The water supply to the works is arranged on a scale so ample as to admit of the cottages at Bridgend and Kingscavil participating in its benefits. The reservoir is situated on the highest part of the grounds; to it the water is pumped from the Haugh Burn; and in return it give a pressure of 75 lb to the square inch at No.1 pit-head, sufficient to work an ingenious contrivance for tipping the shale waggons. The Company also deserves credit for the effectual methods which have been adopted for keeping the Haugh Burn free from pollution. Though the stream passes right through the middle of the works, it is fresh and clean, and abounds in fish. All the water used in the refineries is caught in drains and used over again in the condensers, while a large quantity of it is run into a settling tank which has an outlet in to the "dipping hole" through which all the hutches containing the hot spent shale pass before proceeding to the waste hill. At the dipping hole great evaporation is constantly going on, and keeps the quantity of dirty water on hand to manageable compass.

It should also be mentioned in connection with this notice that and incline mine has been run into the Houston seam of coal, the output of which is 80 tons a day. That, however, is not sufficient to keep the works in fuel. The heavy tars which come off the oil at the refinery are also utilised for burning purposes, and indeed, it may be said generally that the processes for utilising the by-products are a striking feature at this and other oil works. Excellent clay is got on Ochiltree, and in the summer a brickwork is kept going, from which the cottages at Kingscavil and Bridgend, as well as the buildings at the works, have been constructed. In consequence of American competition the price of mineral oil at present is very low – 5.5 to 6d a gallon. Eight or nine years ago it was 2s. 6d. "Scale" has also fallen from 4d per lb. in the beginning of 1884 to 2.5d per lb, so that with their present splendid appliances for production, the Scottish oil companies would not be sorry to see foreign competition a little slackened and prices showing an upward tendency. A penny a gallon on the 20 million gallons of refined oil produced each year would represent £80,000., while 1d per lb on the total output of "scale" would represent £200,000h a good supply of shale is being taken.

 

The Scotsman 14th January 1887

 

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