Scottish Shale Oil Industry Timelime

Before 1850

The only oils available to fuel lamps or lubricate machinery were made from plants or animals. These oils were smelly and expensive.


James "Paraffin" Young created a process to produce oil from a special type of coal. They began to build the world's first mineral oil works at Boghead near Bathgate. He had a patent on this process meaning only he was allowed to use the process to get the oil from the special types of coal.

During the 1850s

James Young developed a fuel for oil lamps which he called "paraffine". This new fuel was an immediate success. The process is used throughout the world and James "paraffin" Young became rich and famous. James Young had a patent on this fuel meaning only he could use the process unless someone had paid him a licence fee.


The world's first oil well is drilled in the USA providing a much simpler and cheaper way of producing mineral oil. American oil is soon being imported into Britain. 1862 James Young's patents run out sparking the "oilmania". Throughout the Scottish coalfields people try to get rich quick by opening their own oilworks. Most only last a few years.


James Young begins construction of a huge oilworks at Addiewell which uses oil-shale instead of coal.


James Young sells his interest in Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company, and retires to enjoy his fortune.


The Broxburn Oil Company is established, using a new design of shale retort. The success of this new company encourages others to open large scale oil works.


The Pumpherston Oil Company invents an even better shale retort. The company grows quickly to become the most successful of the Scottish oil companies.


A time of success and richness for the five major shale oil companies. Oil works are made bigger and improved, but the Scottish companies continue to compete against each other instead of joining together to combat the threat of the American Oil import.


The shale oil industry is unable to compete against cheap imported oils. The Scottish companies join together to form Scottish Oils Ltd, part of a government group that became BP.


Scottish Oils open the Grangemouth refinery to process imported crude oil. The skills and experience of the shale oil companies was vital in the development of the new international oil company.


A public enquiry concludes that shale oil will never again be able to compete with cheaper imported fuels. Oilworks close with terrible consequences to the thousands employed by the industry.


The government reduces tax on Scottish oil to prevent the total closure of the shale oil industry. 1941 New shale mines are opened and a major new oilworks is built so that Britain would not be so dependent on imported oils in the event of war.

During the 1950s

The tax advantage of shale oil is gradually reduced. Oilworks and mines close.


The last Scottish shale oil works is closed.