Greendykes Bing

The largest and highest of the distinctive pink-coloured oil shale bings of West Lothian, the Greendykes Bing lies a half-mile (1 km) north northeast of Broxburn and a similar distance south of Winchburgh. The bing has a footprint of 33 ha (82 acres). Its top forms a significant grass-covered plateau which reaches a height of 185m (606 feet) above sea level, or 95m (311 feet) above the surrounding landscape. Its steep slopes are remarkably stable, owing to the mixed size of the shale substrate, and the material is non-toxic, with none of the heavy metals or other toxins associated with coal-mine waste.

Abandoned since 1925, this remarkable landmark is a reminder of the oil shale industry pioneered in 1858 in West Lothian by James 'Paraffin' Young (1811-83), which soon comprised 120 oil works extracting more than 100 million litres (22 million gallons) of oil from 340 million tonnes of shale annually, and employing up to 40,000 people. The West Lothian Oil-Shale Formation covered an area of around 203 sq. km. and was deposited in lagoons during the Carboniferous period, some 340 million years ago. By the second decade of the 20th century, this industry began meeting competition from crude oil pumped directly from the ground in the USA and the Middle East, but it was to continue into the 1960s. When oil production ceased there were 27 bings containing over 200 million tonnes of burnt shale. Several were removed providing blaes for a variety of purposes, including tennis courts, running tracks, hardcore for roads, but nineteen remain in West Lothian, representing a focus of community identity in West Lothian. Greendykes is intact and is now in-part a scheduled historic monument, protecting it from being quarried. It provides an important recreational space for local people and the alkaline substrate provides a unique habitat for a range of locally-threatened flora and fauna, including wormwood, hare, red grouse and larks.

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