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Albertite and Albert Mines

The small village of Albert Mines is situated a short drive from the main highway that follows the Petitcodiac River south of Moncton. Quiet now, it was once a bustling mining town at the centre of the fledgling petroleum industry. Albert Mines was one of the most famous mines of 19th century New Brunswick. Albert County has many mineral resources including gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, manganese, gypsum, oil, gas, and natural gas. But, the most unique resource must be albertite, a black bituminous substance named after Albert County. Albertite caused quite a stir in the mid-1800s when it became the centre of a court dispute that drew in the likes of Joseph Leidy, Charles Lyell and Hugh Miller.

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Albertite may have been discovered as early as 1820, but if it was, there was no known use for it at the time. The shiny black bitumen resembles coal and rumours suggest that even though it burns, local blacksmiths used it without success. Abraham Gesner is credited with discovering a process to distill kerosene from bitumen and for that he is considered a founder of the modern petroleum industry. When Gesner found albertite about 1840 he realized it could be used a raw material for his process. Kerosene was soon sought after as an affordable replacement for whale oil in lamps.

There was money to be made; that is when things turned messy for all involved. By the time Gesner tried to mine albertite in 1850 others had moved in to try their hand at it as well. Betrayed by business partners, Gesner became embroiled in a conflict with the Albert Mining Company and Robert Foulis over mining rights. Foulis claimed to have discovered the illuminating properties of albertite years before. Shots were fired, lawyers hired and geological experts weighed in on the nature of albertite – mineral or coal. Mining rights depended on the outcome. In the end Gesner lost his right to mine albertite. The jury wrongly determined albertite to be coal.