On a plain, in the middle of Sweden, there is a 100 meter high hill. Today it is best known for an art exhibition, “Art on a Hill”. In the winter it is used for skiing and at summer, a golf course is available at the foot of the hill. Fifty years ago this landscape of leisure time looked completely different. It was described as a desert, a moon landscape, and the hill as a volcano. Today’s seemingly peaceful hill is in fact an industrial memorial from Sweden’s most environmentally injuring industry ever.
The hill is composed of waste from the extraction of oil from alum shale. The production started in 1942 with a state-owned company, Svenska Skifferoljebolaget. The company was established the year before. The German occupation of Denmark and Norway cut trade and the import of oil decreased to virtually nothing. Sweden is poor in fossil fuels, except peat and shale oil (to be found in low concentration at various places). After initiatives from the National Fuel Commission and other agencies, and after considerable investments in money and man-power, a domestic production of oil from shale started.
The production made sense during the war. It partially compensated for the lack of imported oil. But, in spite of chronically weak economy and problematic environmental effects, production continued when peace came. The emissions of sulphuric gases destroyed vegetation and caused corrosion many kilometres from the production site. Only a fraction of the shale was extracted as oil or other hydrocarbons (gasol). The rest, as waste, built up what is today the hill. And parts of the waste was still burning when it was disposed. The result was that the hill (the “volcano”) was burning. And it is still, fifty years later, hot inside the hill..
One of the production methods was exceptionally devastating. Electrical thermal elements heated the ground and gasified hydrocarbons which was condensated to oil-products. That is why some papers named the shale oil “electrical petrol”.
In spite of economical difficulties and obvious environmental problems production continued for twenty years after the end of the war which once had motivated the extraction of shale oil. In my paper I will discuss the causes of this “momentum” of shale oil production.
Umeå: Umeå universitet, Institutionen för idé- och samhällsstudier , 2009. , 23 p.