Featured Article » 1632 Nonfiction
A Visit to Wietze
(This is an opinion piece. It is my personal view of what Wietze might be like. However, I will attempt to justify my "view" with cites from references and canon.)
After the Ring of Fire the up-timers need fuels. Not just gasoline, but also diesel. They can strip gasoline from some of the gas wells around Grantville, but they can't get diesel that way. That leaves them using bio-diesel substitutes to run diesel engines [see McDonnell: Grantville Gazette Volume 4]. In itself, that isn't a problem. Diesel engines can run on bio-diesel with little or no modification. The problem is the cost of the bio-diesel. Down-time there is no waste fat or oil from fast food restaurants that you can get for a pittance and, after running it through a filter, use it in a diesel engine. They will have to use expensive seed or fish oils, at least until they can produce proper diesel, which means they have to find oil.
Unfortunately, the reference material in Grantville is very thin on German oil fields. However, fortune favors the up-timers. There are oil seeps in an area known as the Hannover Basin, and oil seeps are usually a very good indicator that there is oil in the immediate area. The seeps at Wietze were known to people on the bar when the need for an oil field was announced and we know that these seeps were also known to down-timers (Cooper (1); Kauenhowen, p.472). For this reason Wietze was selected for the first efforts in the search for oil in the 1632 universe.
Wietze is not the most productive oil field in Germany, but our heroes didn't know that when they set out to exploit it. What they did know was that it lay within the Confederated Principalities of Europe sphere of influence, unlike the other six possible field locations hinted at in the Hammond Citation World Atlas (which is known to exist in Grantville).
Historically there is probably some confusion as to who owns the rights to the oil, but it seems it has been assumed that ownership of the oil belongs to the landowner rather than the leaseholder, and the land where the Wietze oil field exists has been determined, for 1632 universe purposes, to belong to George, the duke of Calenberg (1633; Cooper (2)).
So, where is Wietze? You might well ask. To describe its location as "in the middle of nowhere" is a slight exaggeration. However, when it comes to getting material to Wietze, and more importantly, getting oil products out to where they are needed, it certainly comes close.
Wietze is a small farming community about eighty-miles as the crow flies NWW of Magdeburg. It is such a small settlement that it doesn't appear on the Blaeu 1645 map of Lüneburg. It lies on the left bank (traveling downstream) of the River Aller, on the left bank of the Wietze River (traveling downstream) about twenty miles north of the city of Hannover and ten miles west of Celle. From Wietze and extending east toward Celle there is a bog-like region known as the Wietzenbruch. Today this is a region of extensive forest and fen woodland (Bruchwald) about 400 square kilometers (150 sq mi) in area (Wiki: Wietze - Aller). However, if we take into account the impact of centuries of drainage engineering and modern irrigation drawing off water, the region is likely to have been larger and wetter in the early modern era.
Across the Aller, beyond the right bank, there is a trade route joining Magdeburg (via Braunschweig (Brunswick) and Celle) to the river-port city of Bremen. Not that that road will be very good. Sieglerschmidt (p.31) tells us that even the great overland roads (and this isn't one of them) were "generally of lower quality than your modern field or woodland road." They lacked proper foundations, and were usually in need of repair. Kriedte (p.102) tells us that a report on roads in the Duchy of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel "dating from 1681 noted large number of 'very bottomless and bad places.'"
From 1633 we know that Quentin Underwood is expecting to use steam sternwheel river tugs " to provide much of the transportation for the petroleum he was starting to produce at Wietze." The idea of using the river to transport cargo won't be new to anybody. In fact, as far back as the 12th century metals from the Harz were shipped past Wietze from Braunschweig to the North Sea. All of which suggests that Quentin could be able to barge his petroleum at least as far as Braunschweig (using first the Aller and then the Oker River)—which only leaves another fifty or so miles to connect to Magdeburg. Unfortunately, until a railway is laid or a canal dug that will bridge that gap, the roads, bad as they might be, will remain the only way to move most goods between Magdeburg and Wietze—although a pipeline bridging the gap could deliver petroleum products to Magdeburg.
There is another way to connect Magdeburg with Wietze by water, but it involves a loop of about 300 miles—Wietze to Bremen via the Rivers Aller and Weser; the North Sea between Bremen and Hamburg; and finally, the River Elbe between Magdeburg and Hamburg. I doubt they'll be traveling that route in 1633—maybe they'll use it after the Baltic War, when the USE sphere of influence extends past Bremen to the North Sea, and includes Hamburg.
Having decided to head for Wietze, what can people expect to find there? Well, as I said before, it's a small farming village. The River Wietze is a shallow river (not navigable) that flows about a quarter mile to the north of the village, and the village is about a mile and a half southeast of where the River Wietze joins the River Aller. The village is positioned close to a ford across the Wietze, which might in part explain its location.
Before the up-timers arrive to exploit the oil the village population will probably be in the one to two hundred people range, living in maybe twenty housing units centered on the village which lies in the middle of the land they farm. That's a density of five to ten per housing unit, but that's not unreasonable for the period. Most of the adults will work the land, either as tenant farmers or as farm laborers.
Modern aerial photographs show the village surrounded by farmland, which is in turn nearly completely surrounded by woodland. We are told that back in the 1630s the wooded area would have been less, which is important when we consider the advent of the French raid in 1634: The Baltic War, as most of the area the French would have to pass through is heavily wooded today. We are also told the ground close to the rivers is wet, especially the areas southwest of where the River Wietze joins the River Aller. Which, considering the River Aller turns from a southwest direction to northwest, isn't too surprising. Any increase in the river level (due to rain or snow melt) is likely to flood the land bordering that outside curve.
Having arrived in Wietze the up-timers responsible for setting up the oil recovery and refining facility had to make some decisions. We know that Quentin Underwood is planning on using river barges to move the oil out of Wietze. That means they have to build a dock.
So where to build the dock? The River Wietze is an obstacle to easy movement north and south, and the known oil seeps are to the south. If the dock is north of the Wietze, then we have to transport oil from the oil seeps across the Wietze. So we have to locate the dock on that bit of curve on the River Aller south of the River Wietze. Not ideal, but the pragmatic choice.
We have placed the dock, now, what about the oil facility? The oil seeps that brought us here are about a quarter of a mile northwest of the village of Wietze, and a mile southeast of the dock. Do we put the oil facility close to the oil seeps and transport refined products a mile to the dock? Or do we put it close to the dock, and transport crude oil the mile from the oil seep? Pragmatism suggests the oil facility should be built close to the dock, for the simple reason that that is where everything enters or leaves the facility—and some of the material necessary for building the oil facility is big and heavy. This will be found to be the right decision when we start to drill for and find oil, as a good deal of the oil around Wietze is closer to the dock than it is the oil seeps.
Having decided where to build the oil facility, we now have to decide just what is the oil facility to be like.
When most people think of an oil refinery they think of tall fractionating columns—where the oil goes in as crude and separates out into the different frctions (Gasoline, naphthas, kerosene, diesel (oil gas), fuel oil, residue). That's nice, but those columns are big. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1977EB15th) talks of one-hundred-and-fifty feet high towers with forty to a hundred fractionating trays. If that tower is ten feet diameter and made of half-inch rolled iron plate, with forty fractionating plates in quarter-inch plate, that's about sixty-five tons of iron. Can you imagine trying to get that much material to Wietze, let alone erecting it once you get there?
So what will they build?
In the beginning the only oil they can recover will be what they can skim off of the tar pits. Volumes will be small and production will be measured in buckets per day rather than barrels per day. That sort of volume doesn't demand complex processing equipment, and simple batch processing in very simple stills could suffice.
Batch processing means you fill a "kettle" with a charge of crude oil and heat it. Different fractions are boiled off by controlling the temperature in the vessel and you keep boiling off the different fractions until you have all that you want. Early on they need gasoline and diesel, but they might also isolate the middle fraction, kerosene, as well, meaning they have three cycles. After they have boiled off the diesel fraction the kettle will be emptied and left to cool. The residue is "fuel oil." You can extract lubricating oils and ashpalt from this, and or use it as fuel.
Early batch processing methods will be quite inefficient in terms of throughput for the amount of equipment and manpower required. Additionally, there will likely be difficulty in producing consistent product grades. For these reasons, it can be anticipated that a second generation process would be implemented as soon as there was a reasonable certainty of successful production from the drilling program. The second generation technology would build on the knowledge base developed from the coal tar industry which started in 1631.
In the early stages of developing the refinery capability, until they know the sort of volumes they might face, they could use something like one of the existing coal tar fractional distillation systems (built for the coal tar industry) with pots probably no bigger than an oil barrel. As such,they should be easy to transport to Wietze, even by road.
The first separator pot in the system will draw its feedstock from a wood stave storage tank of crude oil. From this tank the oil will pass through one or more heat exchangers. The heat exchangers will heat up the feedstock a little before it enters the "boiler" while also aiding cooling of the distillate and residues. For efficiency reasons the boiler will be modeled on a locomotive type small-tube boiler, except it'll be oil passing through the tubes. The small tubes allow more surface area to be exposed to heat than would be the case by just heating a "pot," and will heat the oil to the same temperature using less energy (fuel). From the boiler the oil, now heated to the required temperature, will go by pipe straight into the separator pot (Corwith (2)). The heat exchangers aren't essential, and might be nothing more than a few windings of one pipe around another, but they add to the efficiency of the system, and this system was designed by an engineer. Improving the efficiency of things is what engineers live for.
If the operator has got things running correctly (And in the primitive equipment being used it will be up to the skill of the operator to control things), the desired fraction will evaporate out of the heated feed oil and rise up the pot. The vapor will hit a perforated "bubble-cap" tray near the top of the pot and the desired fraction will condense onto the drip tray ("Bubble-caps" sit over short risers in a drip tray, using the condensed fluid as a "fluid seal").
The condensed fluid (the desired fraction) will be drawn off from the drip tray and pass through the first of the heat exchangers previously mentioned, and the cooled fraction will be piped to a storage tank, from which it can be poured into barrels ready for export. The oil being fractionated can be heated inside the separator pot, but not by exposing it to a flame. Instead, superheated steam (heated to the temperature of the desired fraction in another set of small tubes inside the boiler) can be passed through the oil collecting at the bottom of the separator pot. The system is continually pumping more heated oil into the separator pot, so the residues (everything left after boiling of the desired fraction) have to be drawn off. Otherwise the pot fills up and stops functioning. The residue will be drawn off from below the steam inlet. Hopefully, by the time it leaves the pot the desired fraction has been totally removed.
The residue from one separator pot will be the feedstock for the next pot down the line. Either it will go into a storage tank (where it'll cool down a bit—not what an engineer will want to see), or it can be piped directly to the next pot. The process will be repeated in successive separator pots, but at higher and higher temperatures, until all the desired fractions have been removed. The final residue will contain heavy fuel oils and tars. The oils can be evaporated off by vacuum distillation at 750°F (400°C), leaving a residue of asphalt, or bitumen (1977EB15th). This system of "chained" separator pots is entirely suitable for the primitive nature of the oil processing technology available—being well within the technological and industrial capabilities available in 1633 (see EB9th: Paraffin).
Because we are drawing off fractions as we go, the amount of oil going into each successive separator pot decreases. Efficiency of design would suggest that the size of the successive separator pots should decrease as well. However, not only can the proportion of the various fractions in crude oil vary between formations, but the small differences in the sizes of the pots necessary to process the various Wietze oils do not really justify constructing different sized vessels.
Over time, as oil wells are drilled and oil is struck, they will need to increase their refining capacity. They have the choice of installing extra coal-tar size units, or building something bigger. The description of a man climbing a ladder welded to a separating pot in canon (1634:The Baltic War) suggests they went for something bigger.
There are two "something bigger" options. One is to take advantage of the fact that the useful fractions (gasoline, kerosene, and diesel) amount to only 23-51 percent of the crude found at Wietze. They could get away with having a single large pot run at a constant temperature to boil off all of the desired fractions (Corwith (2) suggests a cylinder ten feet high and about twenty-eight inches ...