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The Scottish Shale Oil Industry

Shale oil was an important component of Scotland's heavy industries and James “Paraffin” Young was one of Victorian Scotland's great heroes. In 1850, his Bathgate Chemical Works was arguably the first in the world to refine mineral oil on a commercial scale. Young's success sparked a rash of short-lived coal oil works throughout the Scottish coalfields and, more significantly, laid the foundations for a Scottish oil industry that operated for over a century based on the oilshales of East Central Scotland. Competition from cheaper, imported oils bred innovation and, as a result, the Scottish shale oil companies were at Broxburn Oil Worksthe forefront of oil technology. Scottish business and technical expertise was exported to develop shale oil industries in Australia and many other parts of the world.

The last shale mine and crude oil works closed in 1962 and first hand experience of the Scottish shale oil industry is fading fast from living memory however the achievements of “Paraffin” Young are still celebrated and the legacy of the industry remains very much in the public consciousness, particularly in and around West Lothian. The collections held in museums, libraries and archives provide a unique record of one of Scotland's great industries.









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