Bing! (West Lothian)

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Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby Lucky Poet » Mon Mar 31, 2008 11:25 pm

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the shale bings that dot the county. The biggest is the Greendykes bing just north of Broxburn, pretty unmissable from the Edinburgh train and the M8; I figure few if any of you have climbed it, so here's some photos.

There's actually a Glasgow link to this, since many of the shale miners moved here from through west. For any of you who don't know, the mined shale was processed (heated up, essentially, in huge ovens) to extract oil. For every 10 barrels of crude oil, 8 tons of shale had to be dug, and 6 tons of burnt waste was left.

It's a fair size when you get near it. If you peer past the bush in the middle left here you can just make out a kid climbing it:
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Almost Australian landscape:
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Quite a view from the top. The Pentlands on the horizon:
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The pictures don't really convey the size of the thing, it's bloody huge. All of these shots show small sections. It took me several minutes to walk to the north end.
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I've no idea what this was for:
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Again, it is very very big indeed. I read somewhere it's still one of the biggest man-made objects on the planet.
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The sheer amount of stuff dumped here is mind boggling. This was big industry; in 1913, the West Lothian output of crude oil hit its peak, at just over 17 million barrels (3 1/2 million tons). This bing was last used in 1925; oil production finally ceased in 1963.
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby engineer » Tue Apr 01, 2008 9:16 am

nice post, didn't know about the production of oil in this area
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby HollowHorn » Tue Apr 01, 2008 4:21 pm

Great post and excellent photos, cheers. :wink:
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby Lucky Poet » Tue Apr 01, 2008 11:41 pm

Cheers guys. I moved here when I was young, and the shale oil heritage is hard to miss. There are still miners rows in various towns here, and as you travel the countryside you're pretty much dodging these big spoil heaps. It's funny to be able to go wandering in quiet places that were once the home to Scotland's original oil industry. If you want to know more, google James 'Paraffin' Young (the Wikipedia entry's good).

There used to be more bings, including one just down the road from me, a natural magnet for any boy; one kid's claim to fame was to have sledged down the near 45 degree slope on a car bonnet. He was off his nut though. For some reason there were big solid lumps of shale around the edge of the thing, which was maybe 150 feet up; the popular pastime of the day was to gang up and try to dislodge these bits and watch them bound down the slope, preferably towards the main road below. One time I saw a five foot diameter ball of rock doing 50mph going through a chain link fence as if it wasn't there, which I took as my cue to leg it. I guess you don't think of consequences when you're 13. All that's left now is a sorry looking mound next to the A89; they found out that the burnt shale is perfect for motorway foundations - the M8 and M9 are built on the stuff (though that was before my day). The Greendykes one is now a protected monument, and is much as it was when it was abandoned.

The Glasgow and west of Scotland link is interesting. I'm not a football man, but when I was growing up I realised Broxburn was all Rangers and Celtic; Uphall (where I am) was Hibs and Hearts; the local theory is that Broxburn saw a big influx from Glasgow around the turn of the last century, and Uphall far less so, and that this is still seen in the team allegiances (and the big bad S word, I'm sorry to say).

Anyhow, as reward for anyone who's ploughed through my ramblings, here's more photos...

Distant view from the west:
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Scrambler playground:
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Lump:
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The unnaturally flat summit:
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Another mystery structure:
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The Forth bridges from the north end:
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Looking down:
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby Grahame » Wed Apr 02, 2008 9:02 am

See, this is what I love about HG - there's always something educational to be found. I didn't know the bings were shale; I've always thought they were bauxite, although I've no idea where that came from.
Very interesting post and great pics, Lucky.
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby My Kitten » Wed Apr 02, 2008 9:50 am

Great stuff, I have no knowledge of anywhere east of Cumbernauld. Always seen them from the train but not up close. Looks like a ideal place for a hike and photography.
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby cell » Thu Apr 03, 2008 6:43 pm

Nice Bing!
If you go down to Dalmeny, south side of the river near the rail bridge there is a bing that was dug out and was used as a site for huge oil storage tanks. check it out on google I swear you could walk past this and not know what was inside.
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby Lucky Poet » Thu Apr 03, 2008 9:41 pm

I know the place you mean, cell, and it is odd. One of my favourite bike runs goes past the entrance, which looks amusingly like the way in to a Bond villain's lair. I might try to grab a photo of it, though I've the funny feeling it might attract attention ::): I'll point the investigating authorities to this post if it comes to that, since skinny white cyclists wi DSLRs are an obvious threat to state security.

I'm chuffed to bits that anybody's learned something new from this. Realistically, I've little to contribute about Glasgow but goodness knows I have learned a lot from HG; I'm happy if I can give something back :D
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby cell » Fri Apr 04, 2008 7:46 am

Post 9/11 they are very twitchy about photos so I wouldn't recommend it, the security is under strict instructions to phone the police at the sight of anyone (skinny or not) taking pictures! I think the size of these bings is so impressive, as you say this is the waste product, the actual volume of oil obtained was quite small compared to the raw product and don't forget you had to use coal to heat the retort to drive the oil off as well. Makes the current oil industry look quite environmentally friendly! I've come across references to bings (coal or shale?) burning for years, polluting the surroundings with smelly smoke and runoff. Some of your pictures show what looks like big lava like rocks, I wonder if this is the result of the bing burning after material was dumped, burning and fusing it together, as they seem too big to have been dumped there? Presumably when they dumped this stuff it was still hot after being roasted so you could image it burning further.
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby Lucky Poet » Wed Apr 09, 2008 12:43 pm

Discretion being the better part of valour, I think I'll leave the Dalmeny oil storage place alone... What a pain the current climate is.

There was a notorious bing fire at Polkemmet next to Whitburn, which stank the place out for years, though that was mainly coal waste, but I heard that there have been problems with shale igniting - there are a couple of railway embankments that were partly built with shale, and they've spent some time and effort replacing those sections, as it apparently can start to smoulder under the friction from the weight above it.

I have proof positive that I am a sad git, as I spent some time reading a report I found on the net into the retort designs. It seems the biggest lumps of shale were formed when they let the retorts get too hot, as the stuff would fuse together above 750 degrees C. The crust-like formations round the edges of some of the bing seem different (as in the top right corner of the first picture I posted), and do look like there was some reaction in the shale after it was dumped. As you say, it may well have still been very hot, and most of the retort designs left a fair carbon content in the spent shale (about 10% by weight). (Only one retort design used the remaining carbon to maintain temperatures, the rest were indeed coal fired.) Whether it was to do with that or some more obscure chemical reaction I don't know. Certainly, the stuff was blue when dumped (hence the name 'blaes'), and only turned red as it oxidised.

It's a peaceful place now (apart from the dirt bikers), and a valuable haven for wildlife, but there are pictures of the area from the early 20th century, with the oil works and the lot; it looks like a vision of hell...

<Edit> PS if any of you also have far too much time on your hands, try these: http://www.iom-world.org/pubs/IOM_TM8502.pdf (a US government sponsored report, bizarrely, with some very in-depth stuff about the industry and its methods); http://www.westlothian.gov.uk/media/dow ... hale_bings (a more user-friendly document about the bings, with some of the history).
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby Lucky Poet » Tue Apr 29, 2008 10:01 pm

Well I went for a walk today, down where the oil works were, to the north of Broxburn and not far from Greendykes - the spent shale went up the bing, the oil went across the road to be processed into paraffin, candles, soap, sulphuric acid. All the good stuff. Last time I was there, there was one brick-built structure still standing, roofless and in a sorry state, but nice and picturesque, with a nice circular window at one end. That was near 20 years ago, but I was still dismayed to find it gone, with no sign it had ever even been there. The Broxburn oil works were one of the biggest (if not the biggest) such plants in the world, in its day. Paraphrasing someone or other, I went looking for the largest oil works on the planet and all I found was a lousy pile of bricks - this other part being the biggest remaining sign that there was ever anything there at all:
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Nearby, some moss-covered crap pile of stuff:
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Shit. You can imagine the look on my face. I kid you not, that's all there is. Bang went my idea of wowing you all with some romantic photos of industrial remains ::): Oh well. Next stop Philipstoun, I gather there are bits and bobs up there...
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby cell » Tue May 13, 2008 11:39 am

I was comming back to Glasgow this week on the train from Edinburgh via Carstairs and noticed a shale bing and some remains of buildings on the on the left hand side (southside) just before Carstairs, any ideas on what works this was?

As you seem to be our shale expert, I was wondering if you have come across any references to electricity generation at any of the oilworks? Electricity generation in Scotland is an intrest of mine and I'm always on the look out for info.

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I've just used microsoft maps and it looks like it was Tarbax but an other info wood be good.
http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCP&cp=55.787481~-3.560343&style=a&lvl=14&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&scene=29132350&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&encType=1
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby Lucky Poet » Tue May 13, 2008 8:19 pm

I guess I am the HG shale expert by default now 8) It's a heavy responsibility, but someone's got to do it!
Tarbrax is at the western extremity of the oil shale field, it seems, and was the only oil works anywhere near Carstairs. According to the RCAHMS, the Tarbrax Oil Company opened the place c.1864, and it shut in 1925. There were two bings, at right angles, though one's been partially dismantled. They visited in 1994, and they comment on the ruins of a lot of the plant's buildings being there. Nice to hear you saw buildings there still - it sounds like it might be worth a wee nosey (but not by me, I don't drive and I'm not walking there!) It looks like the Tarbrax works were fed by two nearby mines, and the whole complex was linked by its own branch line to the Caledonian Railway's Edinburgh-Carstairs line.

A wee bit map I found:
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The report I found (linked to in a previous post) doesn't go into huge detail, but has this to say about electricity in the industry:
Until the introduction of electricity, steam was the only source of power for winding, haulage, water pumps and ventilation fans.
[...]

Electrical power was first introduced, on a small scale, into the industry in 1879, but its adoption in mines occurred much later. The first completely electrified mine in Scotland was opened in 1903 by the Oakbank Oil Co., at Duddingston, near Winchburgh.

By 1938 all plant (except a few winding engines) in Scottish shale mines was electrically operated. As the result of the consolidation of the industry, power stations at retort works distributed electricity to mines and other retort works through a common grid.

By coincidence, the Cobbinshaw pit, one of the mines associated with Tarbrax and just to the north, was a pioneer:
In 1904 the first electrical winding motor in Scotland was installed at No. 1 Pit, Cobbinshaw, Tarbrax. This was a 200 hp motor, using direct current and was connected directly to the winding drum shaft. The design was known as the Ilger system, comprising a 3000 volt induction motor, a variable voltage D.C. generator, an exciter and a heavy fly-wheel.
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby Lucky Poet » Wed May 14, 2008 8:20 pm

PS the references to electrical power in yon report seem to come from two sources, if you're feeling really determined to find out about such things ::):

With luck the Mitchell might have these, or perhaps more likely the National Library of Scotland:

JB Sneddon, W Caldwell and J Stein, 'Seventy-five years of oil shale mining', in Oil Shale and Cannel Coal (Institute of Petroleum; London, 1938) pp. 53-69

CA MacLennan, 'Electrical services in the shale oil industry', in G Sell (Ed.), Oil Shale and Cannel Coal, Vol. 2 (Institute of Petroleum; London, 1950) pp. 235-259
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Re: Bing! (West Lothian)

Postby cell » Thu May 15, 2008 7:02 am

Thanks I'm off this friday so a visit to the Mitchell is on the cards, I'll let you know how I get on and post any any info. By the way do you have other extracts from the same map that shows the locations of the other shale works?
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