Of blaes and bings: Reimagining the West Lothian oil shale industry

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation


In this paper I explore changing valuations of oil shale waste – blaes – in West Lothian, Scotland. Around 150 million cubic metres of blaes remain here in vast heaps called bings - the remnants of a short-lived but globally significant oil industry, active between 1851 and 1962.
While these heaps are relatively nontoxic, they are material witnesses to the dirty and wasteful history of the oil industry. Nonetheless, as discard studies scholars have demonstrated, definitions of what waste actually 'is' are far from fixed (Reno 2018).
In this sense, the blaes and bings also present other opportunities: providing sites of leisure, habitats, and raw material for construction. By examining the origins and shifting understandings of this material over the last century, I show that the heritage of hydrocarbon exploitation may yet prove valuable as we face an ever more polluted planet.

Reno, Josh. 2018. “What Is Waste?” Worldwide Waste: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 1(1), 1–10.
Period6 Jan 2023
Event titleSociety for Historical Archaeology Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology: Revisiting Global Archaeologies
Event typeConference
LocationLisbon, PortugalShow on map


  • shale oil
  • oil shale
  • blaes
  • waste
  • anthropocene
  • John Latham
  • land art
  • New Towns
  • West Lothian
  • bings
  • spoil heaps