Skip to comments.Abiotic Theory of Oil Formation
Posted on 06/09/2004 9:15:38 PM PDT by narses
There is an alternative theory about the formation of oil and gas deposits that could change estimates of potential future oil reserves. According to this theory, oil is not a fossil fuel at all, but was formed deep in the Earth's crust from inorganic materials. The theory was first proposed in the 1950s by Russian and Ukranian scientists. Based on the theory, successful exploratory drilling has been undertaken in the Caspian Sea region, Western Siberia, and the Dneiper-Donets Basin.
The prevailing explanation for the formation of oil and gas deposits is that they are the remains of plant and animal life that died millions of years ago and were compressed by heat and pressure over millions of years. Russian and Ukranian geologists argue that formation of oil deposits requires the high pressures only found in the deep mantle and that the hydrocarbon contents in sediments do not exhibit sufficient organic material to supply the enormous amounts of petroleum found in supergiant oil fields.
The abyssal, abiotic theory of oil formation has received more attention in the West recently because of the work of retired Cornell astronomy professor Thomas Gold, who is known for development of several theories that were initially dismissed, but eventually proven true, including the existence of neutron stars. He has also been wrong, however; he was a proponent of the "steady state" theory of the universe, which has since been discarded for the "Big Bang" theory. Gold's theory of oil formation, which he expounded recently in a book entitled The Deep Hot Biosphere, is that hydrogen and carbon, under high temperatures and pressures found in the mantle during the formation of the Earth, form hydrocarbon molecules which have gradually leaked up to the surface through cracks in rocks. The organic materials which are found in petroleum deposits are easily explained by the metabolism of bacteria which have been found in extreme environments similar to Earth's mantle. These hyperthermophiles, or bacteria which thrive in extreme environments, have been found in hydrothermal vents, at the bottom of volcanoes, and in places where scientists formerly believed life was not possible. Gold argues that the mantle contains vast numbers of these bacteria.
The abiogenic origin of petroleum deposits would explain some phenomena that are not currently understood, such as why petroleum deposits almost always contain biologically inert helium. Based on his theory, Gold persuaded the Swedish State Power Board to drill for oil in a rock that had been fractured by an ancient meteorite. It was a good test of his theory because the rock was not sedimentary and would not contain remains of plant or marine life. The drilling was successful, although not enough oil was found to make the field commercially viable. The abiotic theory, if true, could affect estimates of how much oil remains in the Earth's crust.
The abiogenic origin theory of oil formation is rejected by most geologists, who argue that the composition of hydrocarbons found in commercial oil fields have a low content of 13C isotopes, similar to that found in marine and terrestrial plants; whereas hydrocarbons from abiotic origins such as methane have a higher content of 13C isotopes. In an April 2002 letter published in the science journal Nature, Barbara Sherwood Lollar and her colleagues from the Stable Isotope Lab at the University of Toronto reported their analysis of the Kidd Creek mine in Ontario. An unusual ratio of 13C isotopes and the presence of helium provided evidence of hydrocarbons with abiotic origins, but they argued that commercial gas reservoirs do not contain large amounts of hydrocarbons with a similar signature. Gold and other geologists who argue that there are significant amounts of oil from abiotic origins maintain that as oil seeps up through the layers of Earth closer to the surface, it mixes with oil from biological origins, and takes on its characteristics.
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists has scheduled a conference in July 2004 to review the evidence supporting the theories about the formation of oil. For more about the abiotic theory of oil formation, visit these websites:
The Drilling and Development of the Oil and Gas Fields in the Dneiper-Donets Basin This paper, written by V.A. Krayushkin, T.I. Tchebanenko, V.P. Klochko, Ye.S. Dvoryanin, and J.F. Kenney, is presented by the Ukrainian Institute of Geological Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Gas Resources Corporation and describes the exploration drilling that has taken place in the Dnieper-Donets Basin in Ukraine. Earlier papers on this subject are also available through this website.
Wired Magazine: "Fuel's Paradise" In this July 2000 Wired magazine interview, contributing editor Oliver Morton talks with Thomas Gold about the theory of abiotic oil formation and his career.
Thomas Gold: "The Origin of Methane (and Oil) in the Crust of the Earth" This 1993 paper was published by USGS as a part of a collection called The Future of Energy Gases. Cornell University host's Dr.Gold's website, which presents this paper and others describing the abiotic theory of oil formation.
"Considerations about Recent Predictions of Impending Shortages of Petroleum Evaluated from the Perspective of Modern Petroleum" This article by J.F. Kenney of the Joint Institute of the Physics of the Earth was orginally published in the June 1996 edition of Energy World, a publication of the British Institute of Petroleum. Presented through the California State University Northridge website, this article argues that reports concerning the impending oil shortage are inaccurate.
Explorer: Abiogenic Gas Debate This article by correspondent David Brown was published in the November 2002 edition of Explorer, a publication of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Though the article is dated in references to upcoming events, the author presents a well rounded explanation of the debate surrounding gas origin theories.
Given the age of the Appalachians, how are the discoveries of oil at much greater depths than accessed by conventional drilling explained?
Never thought much of this theory, although I don't have a better one. Maybe this guy does.
I had the pleasure of reading a translation of the Russian Textbook "Exploration Geochemistry" [with a Preface written, which disagreed with the oil formation info, by Shell exploration types, out of California], curtesy of the largest LENDING Library on the Planet...the Ingersoll Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
Also read there the original "Power From the Wind", a book documenting the HUGE wind generating station on Grandpa's Knob in New England in the early 1940's.
That was the problem in the valve guide seals in my Chevy. Bits of dinosaur bones would get stuck in there and chew up the seal and next thing you know the Chevy is burning oil.
I remember that story. I believe the infant 'aliens' looked like paper clips, then grew into wire coat hangers, then became bikes as adults.
Nobody that I've ever met in the industry believes this theory. We wouldn't plug wells if we did.
However, anyone who wants to purchase a well that we're about to plug is welcome to freepmail me. The buyer can then watch and wait for the well to magically refill.
I'm kinda curious what A has to do with B.
Also land vegetation biomass and vegetation from swampy land areas. This (swamps) might have been very extensive back then. Swamps are full of algae and slimy vegetation.
I remember that story. I believe the infant 'aliens' looked like paper clips, then grew into wire coat hangers, then became bikes as adults. ~ yhwhsman
IIRC, the big question was why we weren't knee deep in coat hangers? What was eating the paper clips before they grew up? The title was something like "All the seas with oysters" from the analogy that we'd be able to walk across the pacific on oysters if all the larvae grew up.
The guy who was asking the question eventually ended up dead in a closet, with a coat hanger wrapped tightly around his neck.
*eyes shifting to my closet...*
I think the story you mentioned was written by Philip K. Dick
Or All the Seas with Oysters (short story 1958, novel 1962) by Avram Davidson
I read the short story, didn't even know there was a novel, will have to look it up...
I know Dick did write a short story where aliens of some type disguised themselves as common items like towels, etc. But they were hostile, and some guy gets strangled by them. The people end up leaving the planet, and can take nothing with them, so they run to the rocket ship totally nude.
At least they think it's their rocket ship...
Sounds a bit like Asimov's "Misbegotten Missionary" (aka "Green Patches")...
I have always been skeptical that there could have beenenough dead dinosaurs and plants to account for so much Texas tea.
I know MY dryer is on the left. It never occurred to me what it was up to, though.
A lot of the Appalachians was eroded and went into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic before man probably walked on two legs. Conventional drilling is accessing depths in the Appalachians that aren't touched in other areas of the US simply because of lot of the higher layers were gone long before us. Now we've learned that there's oil and gas at much deeper depths in the Appalachians.
If that holds true for the Appalachians, what about other areas?
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