The UK “Oil Age” Begins

2010 March 3
by Chris Vernon

A couple of years ago I came across a single page from the Daily Mirror from 19th July 1913. It had been in the back of an old picture frame my mother was working on. This would have been interesting in itself but this 97 year old sheet of paper had a very interesting story about the construction of Great Britain’s first oil-driven battleship heralding the beginning of the “Oil Age”.

Winston Churchill underlines the military importance of imported oil, leading the discussion to the country’s potential self sufficiency in oil. Clearly this is decades before off-shore oil discoveries in the North Sea so shale beds are considered along with a recent breakthrough demonstrating how some 20 gallons of oil can be economically produced from a ton of coal.

Of course some things never change, growing world demand was even reported to be forcing up the price of oil in 1913. As it turned out the UK never embarked on economically significant coal to liquids programmes or exploitation of the shale resources.

Further information on HMS Queen Elizabeth is available here: Wikipedia

It’s an interesting coincidence that just as coal was being discussed as a future source of liquid fuel UK production was peaking. The all time peak production rate of UK coal was 1913:

UK Coal Production

UK Coal Production

UK Coal Production (D. Rutledge)

The image below shows the construction of an oil storage depot at Killingholme. Interestingly this is now the site of a large ConocoPhillips oil refinery, opened in 1969 and sited here as a good place to land North African crude. The simultaneous discovery of North Sea oil made it a highly successful venture now responsible for 10% of UK petrol and 14% of all other oil products.

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