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Page last updated at 14:29 GMT, Wednesday, 6 October 2010 15:29 UK
Shale oil industry's history wins recognition
Shale oil industry artefacts (Rob McDougall)
Artefacts from the shale oil industry are on display in Livingston

An exhibition which tells the story of Scotland's first oil industry has been given national recognition.

The attraction at the Almond Valley Heritage Centre in Livingston highlights an innovation from the century before the discovery of North Sea oil.

Instead, it examines West Lothian's role in the commercial production of shale oil.

The industry transformed the fortunes of the region in the mid 19th Century, giving the area a place on the world's industrial stage.

The oil boom began with the ingenuity of James "Paraffin" Young, who patented a process for deriving oil from coal.

National recognition

Young developed his process - known as "cracking" - in 1850. Before then, tallow and whale oil were the main sources of fuel used for lighting.

In the 1860s, when Young's patent was due to run out, he invested in West Lothian oil company EW Binney & Co, guaranteeing a steady supply of fuel. By 1848, 43 sites across the Almond Valley were mining shale.

Young died in 1883, the same year the huge Pumpherston Oil Company was founded in West Lothian, leasing more than 1,000 acres of shale fields around the village of Pumpherston.

Minister for Culture, Fiona Hyslop, visits the shale oil exhibition
Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop visits the shale oil exhibition

The shale oil industry in West Lothian continued for decades, gradually declining as crude oil refining in England increased. The final death blow was dealt in 1962 as the government withdrew favourable taxation on the industry when the UK entered the European Free Trade Association.

The Almond Valley exhibition, which has been granted national recognition status by Museums Galleries Scotland and the Scottish government, features more than 2,500 objects connected to the shale oil industry.

The artefacts range from colourful shale oils to microscope slides and industrial machinery.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said: "The shale oil industry had an enormous impact on Scotland and on the lives of people all over the world.

"Shale oil is an important part of our industrial heritage, so it is right that the collection has been recognised as being of national significance."

Currently 37 collections across Scotland have recognised collections status, allowing them to access special funding and ensuring they are protected and promoted to wider audiences.


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