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The Work of the Mineral Oil Department. What Has Been Done Under War Conditions ?
pREVIOUS TO the outbreak of war it was difficult, even practically impossible, to move the Government to take action -itself, or to encourage action in others in the' production of oil from such raw material as was then known to be available in this country, and fo use the' processes that had been invented and merely required, as it were, subsidizing in order that they could become established and be enabled to tide over the initial period which invariably is found to be awkward with all new undertakings involving revolutronary changes.
However, the position is better understood to-day, and a great deal has been done to render this country a little less dependent upon foreign sources of oil supply, and we are in a position to publish certain information dealing with the subject that has been supplies to us. The statement which follows deals With the work of the Mineral Oil Production Department.
The provision of the necessary oil supplies of the country during the war has offered a most difficult problem, since in pre-war times practically all the fuel oils used were imported natural pretroleum products. When the great and sudden, expansion of the use of oil fuel for naval purposes, and of petrol for motor transport and aviation, coupled with the restriction of shipping facilities, began to place the importation of sufficient quantities of petroleum products in. jeopardy, it was necessary to take action with a view of safeguarding essential requirements.
Eighty Million Gallons of Petrol Diverted from 'Civilian Purposes.
The first step in this direction was obviously to limit strictly the use of petroleum for non-essential purposes, which, in effect, would give a largely increased supply for those purposes which were essential. The magnitude of this increase can be judged from the fact that in the first Year of petrel licencing.some 80,000,000 gallons were diverted from civilian to naval and military requirements. Such rationing of 'less essential serVices had obvious limits, and in view of the near approach to these limits by the economy secured by the schemes of rationing which had been introduced, it became necessary in 1017.tO develop in addition such fuel oil supplies as could be provided from home sources.
With this object in view Dr. Addison, who was then Minister of Munitions, appointed a new department, the Munitions Petroleum Supplies, with Mr. E. Houghton-Fry as director, in February, 1017. First as a branch of this department, and later under Admiralty control, a Petroleum Research Department was formed under Sir Boverton Redwood to examine the sources from which oil might be suet ,cessfully produced. Later in the year the Mineral Oil Production Department was formed to carry out any practicable scheme which might be devised.
The Petroleum Research Department recommended that endeavours should be made to produce oil from native bituminous minerals, and advised the erection of large numbers of low temperature retorts mainly of the Del Monte type for non-caking cannels . The recommendations of the Research*Departmeni were not considered practicable by the Production Department of the Ministry of Munitions owing to shortage of labour, lack of material, over-estimation of quantities of retortable mineral, and especially the length of time which would elapse before the retorts could be completed with the necessary subsidiary plant and machinery, railway sidings, and other necessary organization and facilities.
In view of the importance of the matter and the difference . of opinion, a special committee was appointed with Lord Crewe as chairman to consider the position. This committee, after the fullest investigation, amply confirmed the action of the Oil Production Department of the Ministry of Munitions. Meanwhile, on. S?r Moverton Redwood becoming Direetor of Technical Investigation in the newlyformed Petroleum Executive, Mr. T. F. Winmill was appointed Director of Petroleum Research, and a reorganization of that department was carried out, involving an amalgamation with the Production Department by which more effective co-ordination of investigation with production could be secured.
A scheme had been put forward by the Production Department, of which Sir A. C. Churchman is Controller, by which native minerals could be carbonized for the production of oil in existing apparatus and by already organized staffs in gasworks. This suggestion was promptly investigated and comprehensive experiments were quickly carried out with ihe invaluable help of Dr. H. G. Colman. The results of the experiments were highly successful, and proved that existing plant could be modified at compare tively small cost to produce yields of oil as large and of as good quality as could be obtained by any other method, whilst at the same time maintaining the output of gas from the'works. This policy has been steadily developed by the Controller of the Production Department, with the result that he is now in a position to utiliz& the whole of the material suitable for oil production which can, under war-time conditions, be produced in England and Scotland. sum_ cient plant exists and can, if necessary, be modified to deal with an output many times greater if this could be obtained.
The oil which has been produced by this method is almost completely miscible with petroleum without refining, an essential point when Admiralty fuel is in question, since all fuel for naval purposes must go into "common stock."
The Development of the Use of Creosote Oil.
The Mineral "Oil Production Department besides initiating this new source of supply, has, thrc ugh its Supplies Branch (under the direction of Mr. E. Houghton-Fry) developed largely the use of creosote produced from coal tar as a substitute for imported petroleum. Efforts in this direction have been so successful that the supply of fuel oil for other than naval and military purposes is now assured from home sources alone.
In addition, large quantities of creosote are now going direct to the Admiralty for use as oil fuel, home-produced creosote has been substituted for im ported petroleum in Diesel and semi-Diesel engines, whilst a mixture of creosote with as much as in some 4cases 75 per cent. of pitch has been substituted for petroleum in oil-fired furnaces and boilers. By these methods the petroleum released for, and the creosote directly supplied to, the Admiralty have together increased sevenfold, the pre-war supplies from home sources, which consisted merely of the oil from the Scottish shale oil industry.
Whilst no direct production of petrol or motor spirit has been undertaken by the ProduCtion Department, the saving of tonnage by the substitution 9f home supplies for a proportion of the imported oils allows a greater margin for the importation of the necessary petrol, and the action of other branches of the Ministry of Munitions in securing the maximum recovery of light oils from coke oven and gasworks has increased very largely the supply of home-produced oils which can be used as motor spirit.
, Boring for naturally occurring oils is being carried out as fast as the complex conditions now existing permit. Messrs. Pearson and Son, Ltd., have offered to place their skilled staff at the disposal of the Government, and have beep appointed as managers to ,act for the 'Government, who are providing the necessary money and other facilities for the work which is now being carried on actively. For some months past the drilling plant (much of which was already in possession of Messrs. Pearson in. America) has been steadily assembled,. and the necessary crews of highly skilled drillers have been got together from various parts of the world. Borings are in preparation on several sites, and it is hoped in a flort time the prospects of obtaining natural oil in raigland will have been thoroughly explored.