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Scientist stirs the cauldron: oil, he says, is renewable
Boston Globe | May 22, 2001 | David L. Chandler

Posted on 11/19/2001 10:07:24 AM PST by Aurelius

SCIENTIST STIRS THE CAULDRON: OIL, HE SAYS, IS RENEWABLE

David L. Chandler,

Globe staff Date: May 22, 2001 Page: A14 Section: Health Science

It's as basic as the terminology people use in discussing sources of energy: On the one hand, there are "fossil fuels," left over from the decayed remains of millions of years worth of vegetation and destined to run out before long; on the other hand, there are "renewable" resources that could sustain human activities indefinitely.

But what if fossil fuels aren't fossils, but are actually renewable and virtually inexhaustible? To most people, that question may sound as reasonable as asking what if down were up, or the XFL were a big, classy hit. But a handful of scientists, led by the unconventional and always-controversial astronomer Thomas Gold of Cornell University, state just that. Move over, dinosaurs, they say: Petroleum has as much to do with fossils as the moon has to do with green cheese.

Gold's claim, spelled out in a book just out in paperback as well as a talk at the Harvard Coop last week, challenges basic premises of the energy debate, from environmentalists' warning of oil's eventual decline to President George W. Bush's current talk about an energy shortage. Just dig deep enough, Gold says, and almost anyone can strike oil.

As one might expect, most mainstream petroleum geologists view this contrarian point of view with either scorn and derision, or the studied indifference reserved for flat-Earthers.

"We're very familiar with Tommy Gold," said Larry Nation, a spokesman for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Geologists in that field, he said, "are more open-minded than you might think. They're a pretty independent bunch, or there wouldn't be so many dry holes." But most of them draw the line at Gold's theory.

At least one successful natural gas geologist, though, has sided with Gold's unorthodox concept, which, in essence, goes like this: Far from being the product of decayed vegetation, petroleum is being manufactured constantly in the Earth's crust. It is made from methane, or natural gas, the simplest of all the hydrocarbon fuels, as it bubbles upward from the depths of the Earth where it has existed since the planet's formation more than 4 billion years ago.

As it rises, the methane is consumed by billions of microbes that exist in a dark netherworld where sunlight never penetrates. While all surface life depends on sunlight, this deep, hidden realm of life - dubbed by Gold as "The Deep Hot Biosphere," which is also the title of his book on the subject - lives on the chemical energy of the methane itself. The biological traces found in all petroleum, he argues, is derived from this hidden form of life, not from the decayed plants usually thought to be petroleum's source.

If Gold's theory is right, then the Earth's "reserves" of petroleum and natural gas may be hundreds of times greater than most geologists now believe. Oil wells that are pumped dry will simply refill themselves as more methane and petroleum works its way upward to fill the emptied spaces in the rock. This has already happened in a few places, geologists agree - something that is hard to explain by the conventional theory, but lends support to Gold's unorthodox view.

Gold's theory "explains best what we actually encountered in deep drilling operations," said Robert Hefner III, a natural gas geologist who has discovered vast gas deposits in Oklahoma over the last three decades, tapped by some of the deepest wells ever drilled. According to conventional theory, it should be impossible for petroleum or natural gas to even exist at such depths, because the pressure and the high temperatures should have "cooked" the hydrocarbons away, Hefner said in an interview yesterday.

Echoing Gold's view, Hefner said that astronomers have found hydrocarbons such as methane on virtually every planet and moon ever studied, as well as the far corners of the universe - places where the conventional view of hydrocarbons forming from decaying remains of living organisms couldn't possibly apply. "It's unlikely [oil on Earth and other planets] got there in two different ways. . . . It probably came from the same place, not from squished fish and dinosaurs."

Few people have been convinced so far. A single test of the theory has been carried out - a pair of wells drilled more than 3 miles deep in Sweden, with results generally seen as inconclusive. Gold had hoped to produce a commercial oil well, which might have cinched his case, but only a few barrels worth of oil came up. He attributes the poor showing to clogging by fine magnetite particles that he said are consistent with his theory.

But Gold is no stranger to being out on a limb with a scientific theory. In 1967, he suggested that newly-discovered pulsing sources of radio emission in the sky were actually rapidly-spinning collapsed stars, called neutron stars. The idea was considered so outlandish that he was not even allowed to speak at a scientific meeting on the subject. Less than a year later, however, his idea had been universally accepted, and remains the textbook explanation for what became known as pulsars.

Not all his ideas have been on target. His prediction that the moon was covered with such fine dust that astronauts might sink right in and be swallowed up once they set foot there caused NASA great - and ultimately unnecessary - anxiety. Gold, however, still maintains that his basic point, that the moon is covered mostly by fine dust rather than solid rock, was actually proved right.

If Gold turns out to be right about "fossil" fuels, then the world will be a very different place: Almost anyplace on Earth could become an oil producer just by drilling deep enough, and petroleum won't ever run out in the foreseeable future.

But nobody's betting on it at this point. "Most petroleum geologists don't agree with his theory," Nation said. "But it's fun to talk about."

David Chandler can be reached by e-mail at chandler@globe.com.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: energy; energylist; hydrocarbons; realscience; thomasgold
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If this was posted before, I couldn't locate it. I have no idea if this guy is right or not. If he is, the implications are enormous.

For me, it will be almost as gratifying to see another case where the expert consensus of the experts in their area of expertize is shown to be so much bovine fertilizer. And if this isn't such a case? Well, we'll just have to wait till another one does come along.

This article also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, June 11, 2001, under the title "Oil forever"

1 posted on 11/19/2001 10:07:24 AM PST by Aurelius
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To: Dog Gone
ping
2 posted on 11/19/2001 10:09:41 AM PST by dirtboy
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To: Aurelius
PETROLEUM RESERVES EVALUATED WITH MODERN PETROLEUM SCIENCE

Another Washington Post article here

3 posted on 11/19/2001 10:17:47 AM PST by spycatcher
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: Aurelius
"It's life Jim, but not as we know it"! (Dr. McCoy, Star Trek
5 posted on 11/19/2001 10:19:43 AM PST by FairWitness
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To: Aurelius
BTTT for later reading!
6 posted on 11/19/2001 10:25:02 AM PST by Ernest_at_the_Beach
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To: Aurelius
My geology professor at OU maintains that the evidence suggests that oil and natural gas may very well be formed continuously, and that we're not any more likely to run out of petroleum than we are to run out of water or basalt. Could be, could be.
7 posted on 11/19/2001 10:26:40 AM PST by ChemistCat
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To: spycatcher
Thanks very much for the additional links. The article that I posted was the only thing that I had seen.
8 posted on 11/19/2001 10:27:29 AM PST by Aurelius
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To: Aurelius
I remember reading about this guy's theory WAY BACK. In the 70s, I think. Problem was, back then, nobody was willing to pay the enormous costs associated with drilling such deep wells without at least some prospect that they could recoup their investment. And one man's word wasn't good enough.

Laser drilling may be the answer as it can be done for a fraction of the cost of conventional drilling.

I don't know if there is anything to Gold's theory, either. But I sure as heck want to find out. If true, it would put those corrupt, murderous Bedouin creeps in the Middle East out of business real fast, and they'd soon find themselves riding around on camels again, living their traditional nomadic life.

9 posted on 11/19/2001 10:30:08 AM PST by LibWhacker
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To: Aurelius
Oil wells that are pumped dry will simply refill themselves as more methane and petroleum works its way upward to fill the emptied spaces in the rock. This has already happened in a few places, geologists agree - something that is hard to explain by the conventional theory, but lends support to Gold's unorthodox view.

If it has already happened in a few places then his theory can't be totally off the wall can it?

10 posted on 11/19/2001 10:33:09 AM PST by TXBubba
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To: Aurelius
This is about science, not politics or economics, and so... the scientific method should offer a clue. It should be possible to conduct experiments, both in the field and the lab, that would either support or discount the basis of this theory. For instance, has any of his theorized "deep hydrocarbon fixing microbes" been collected via deep drilled core samples? If so, what do they do in experimental conditions in the laboratory? Plus, I've always heard and read that coal is the result of millions of years of terrestrial plant life, not petroleum. The billions and billions of tons of plant-biomass material being accumulated and compressed in bogs and swamps became metamorphosed into peat, then lignite, bituminous, and finally anthracite coal. This makes sense as I have personally collected fern and plant fossils associated with coal mines in Illinois. As I remember it, oil and petroleum hydrocarbons are the result of accumulation, compression, and metamorphization of sea plankton, or diatoms. Former college buddies of mine, who studied geology and paleontology, were hired by oil companies to study fossil diatoms found in seabed cores, to determine the best offshore oil drilling locations. Anyone have more to add that might enlighten us as to where this all fits in?
11 posted on 11/19/2001 10:34:39 AM PST by Richard Axtell
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To: Aurelius
This guy reminds me of Ranger Gord from the Red Green show. Notice that his name is Gold.
12 posted on 11/19/2001 10:38:16 AM PST by biblewonk
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Comment #13 Removed by Moderator

To: Aurelius
Thanks for posting the original and reminding me of the subject. Nice to see oil prices dropping with the Russians pumping oil like crazy. We need to tap that Arctic reserve quick and get that pipeline across Afghanistan and oil will be down to $5 a barrel.

Here's a link to Thomas Gold's website

14 posted on 11/19/2001 10:42:02 AM PST by spycatcher
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To: Aurelius
Gold is the P. T. Barnum of the oil industry. Same old stuff that he's being touting for years. Don't believe it.
15 posted on 11/19/2001 10:42:24 AM PST by HopeSprings
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To: Aurelius
I always wondered why all the dinosauers went to Saudi Arabia to die.
16 posted on 11/19/2001 10:43:02 AM PST by The Great RJ
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To: Aurelius
Fascinating article. The theory that oil is the product result of ancient decayed organic matter has serious problems. Just a few... How could so much organic matter gather in one place before being decomposed? How come scientists can't make oil from organic material by subjecting it to heat and pressure? This man has shaken off the preconceptions of a believed theory and developed one that fits experience better. Rather than adjusting facts to support the theory, he changes the theory to support the facts.
17 posted on 11/19/2001 10:43:48 AM PST by The Truth Will Make You Free
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To: Aurelius
Didn't Algore invent this theory?
18 posted on 11/19/2001 10:44:28 AM PST by Mark
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To: Richard Axtell; TXBubba; biblewonk
It usually takes science a while to catch up to Thomas Gold and prove him correct...

From the Wash Post link:

"...Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould has labeled Gold "one of America's most iconoclastic scientists." Says Gold himself: "In choosing a hypothesis there is no virtue in being timid ... [but] I clearly would have been burned at the stake in another age."

In 1947, fresh from pioneering wartime work on the development of radar, he used his research into high-frequency receptors to publish an entire new theory of mammalian hearing. Physiologists shrugged it off for 30 years. Until auditory technology evolved enough to prove him correct.

In 1959, when everybody thought the surface of the moon was frozen lava, Gold decided it was covered with dust from meteor impacts. Footprints of the Apollo astronauts will testify eternally that he was was right about that, too.

In 1967 astronomers trashed his suggestion that energy pulsating in the distant universe was the signature of collapsing stars. The subsequent observation of pulsars won two other scientists a Nobel Prize. And proved Gold correct.

In 1992 he predicted that Martian meteorites might contain fossilized microbes. Four years later NASA announced the same thing.

Now in a new book, "The Deep Hot Biosphere," Gold says the origin and bulk of biological life is not on the surface of the Earth where the birds and bunnies are, but deep within it. Moreover, that microscopic life force is fueled by an inexhaustible supply of petroleum constantly migrating outward from our planet's volcanic core."

19 posted on 11/19/2001 10:46:34 AM PST by spycatcher
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To: The Truth Will Make You Free
I agree. The theory doesn't make sense.
20 posted on 11/19/2001 10:46:59 AM PST by Abcdefg
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To: ChemistCat; EricOKC
Boomer Sooner!
21 posted on 11/19/2001 10:47:53 AM PST by Frank Grimes
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To: Richard Axtell
I have no idea whether the guy is right or not, but life exists in the deepest mineshafts, up to two miles deep. Life exists in boiling acidic water, with no oxygen and with no sunlught.

Some respected biologists believe that by weight, there is more life in the earth's crust than on the surface and in the oceans.

Assuming that petroleum is being replenished, the next question would be, at what rate?

22 posted on 11/19/2001 10:48:03 AM PST by js1138
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To: HopeSprings
Actually Thomas Gold is one of the most brilliant scientists around. See my above post to educate yourself
23 posted on 11/19/2001 10:48:42 AM PST by spycatcher
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Comment #24 Removed by Moderator

Comment #25 Removed by Moderator

To: HopeSprings
http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/tg21/hazard.html

This Gold article explains airplane crashes.

26 posted on 11/19/2001 10:51:06 AM PST by Patria One
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To: dirtboy
I think Gold should stick to astronomy and leave oil and natural gas to the petrophysicists.

Even if his theory were true, it wouldn't help. We are using oil far faster than it is being made.

At best, in a couple billion years we could have fully recharged reservoirs which we then could again use up in about 150 years.

27 posted on 11/19/2001 10:52:21 AM PST by Dog Gone
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Comment #28 Removed by Moderator

To: Abcdefg
I agree. The theory doesn't make sense.

Why not? The theory that oil is a result of decayed plants and animals makes less sense. Why, if the conventional theory is correct, is it not possible to drill for oil everywhere? As a previous poster noted, funny how all the dinosars died in Saudi Arabia -- or Alaska, or off the shore of the Shetland Islands -- but not in the Dakotas or Arizona.

29 posted on 11/19/2001 10:53:59 AM PST by seamus
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To: Aurelius
Earlier today we got The Fat Zapper.

Next thing you know, they'll be telling us that we don't need to drill in the Arctic (or anywhere else), because we can suck an unlimited supply of oil from the faces of acne-laden teenagers.

30 posted on 11/19/2001 10:54:05 AM PST by Alex Murphy
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To: lexcorp
True, but if that is the simple explanation then how come geologists can't say the conventional theory supports it. Apparently they don't think that is the case. I just think this will be interesting to see how it plays out. Like the previous poster - the question would be at what rate does it renew?
31 posted on 11/19/2001 10:57:39 AM PST by TXBubba
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Comment #32 Removed by Moderator

To: Aurelius
Oddly, I've always thought petroleum originating from dead plant and animal matter was a little screwy. How could there be such VAST reserves, among other questions. Glad to find out I'm not alone in this.
BTW - don't you think it a bit odd that science cannot state unequivicably where oil originates? Can there really be other options? Don't they know everything?
33 posted on 11/19/2001 10:59:08 AM PST by Psalm 73
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Comment #34 Removed by Moderator

To: Dog Gone
At best, in a couple billion years we could have fully recharged reservoirs which we then could again use up in about 150 years.

You beat me to it.

35 posted on 11/19/2001 11:03:44 AM PST by Double Tap
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To: Dog Gone; seamus; lexcorp
From the link above:

"...Since the nineteenth century, knowledgeable physicists, chemists, thermodynamicists, and chemical engineers have regarded with grave reservations (if not outright disdain) the suggestion that highly reduced hydrocarbon molecules of high free enthalpy (the constituents of crude oil) might somehow evolve spontaneously from highly oxidized biogenic molecules of low free enthalpy. Beginning in 1964, Soviet scientists carried out extensive theoretical statistical thermodynamic analysis which established explicitly that the hypothesis of evolution of hydrocarbon molecules (except methane) from biogenic ones in the temperature and pressure regime of the Earth’s near-surface crust was glaringly in violation of the second law of thermodynamics. They also determined that the evolution of reduced hydrocarbon molecules requires pressures of magnitudes encountered at depths equal to such of the mantle of the Earth..."

Several oil fields have already refilled in just a few decades and the reason we're seeing oil so cheap right today is because Russia is putting the theory to the test.

"The modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of abyssal, abiotic petroleum origins is not controversial nor presently a matter of academic debate. The period of debate about this extensive body of knowledge has been over for approximately two decades(Simakov 1986). The modern theory is presently applied extensively throughout the former U.S.S.R. as the guiding perspective for petroleum exploration and development projects. There are presently more than 80 oil and gas fields in the Caspian district alone which were explored and developed by applying the perspective of the modern theory and which produce from the crystalline basement rock.(Krayushkin, Chebanenko et al. 1994) Similarly, such exploration in the western Siberia cratonic-rift sedimentary basin has developed 90 petroleum fields of which 80 produce either partly or entirely from the crystalline basement. The exploration and discoveries of the 11 major and 1 giant fields on the northern flank of the Dneiper -Donets basin have already been noted. There are presently deep drilling exploration projects under way in Azerbaijan, Tatarstan, and Asian Siberia directed to testing potential oil and gas reservoirs in the crystalline basement."

36 posted on 11/19/2001 11:04:05 AM PST by spycatcher
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To: yurigagarin; Double Tap
see above
37 posted on 11/19/2001 11:05:18 AM PST by spycatcher
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To: EricOKC
I've worked in the oil business for over 20 years. I don't think I've fallen victim to anything.
38 posted on 11/19/2001 11:06:16 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: Aurelius
Whether Gold is right or wrong about replenishment of oil, he is right about the existence of "deep oil".

Having followed spycatcher's link, I notice where Gold is given credit for development of the Steady State Theory. I thought Fred Hoyle developed that theory?

39 posted on 11/19/2001 11:06:24 AM PST by Ben Ficklin
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To: ChemistCat
This isn't the first time I've heard this theory. It makes more sense than dead vegitation. But who am I to say.

One thing. Remember that crazy geologist who said that the dinosaurs went extinct from a meteor. Nobody believed him 20 years ago. Now EVERYBODY believes him. We shouldn't poo-poo this theory. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

40 posted on 11/19/2001 11:06:27 AM PST by ThomasMore
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To: EricOKC
Actually Dog Gone is dead on. Many fields that took hundreds of millions of years to form are now depleted, this is fact. Not all of the fields are depleted, as is obvious by the fact that we are still making gasoline, but some have definitely being depleted.

Given another hundred million years, those fields may regenerate, but so what.

41 posted on 11/19/2001 11:08:24 AM PST by Double Tap
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To: spycatcher
See what?
42 posted on 11/19/2001 11:09:13 AM PST by Double Tap
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To: Aurelius
Unless oil is being created at the rate of millions of barrels a day (I think the US alone goes through 12 mil a day) then its really a moot point.
43 posted on 11/19/2001 11:09:36 AM PST by 74dodgedart
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To: Ben Ficklin
Thomas Gold developed the Steady State Theory with Hoyle and Bondi
44 posted on 11/19/2001 11:10:09 AM PST by spycatcher
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To: spycatcher
I don't know anything about Russian or central Asian geology, but when you hit basement rocks in America they certainly don't produce hydrocarbons.

I've been involved in drilling wells that were nearly 5 miles deep and I can assure you that they don't get better the deeper you go.

45 posted on 11/19/2001 11:15:14 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: The Truth Will Make You Free
Rather than adjusting facts to support the theory, he changes the theory to support the facts.

Well said!
46 posted on 11/19/2001 11:16:45 AM PST by balrog666
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To: HopeSprings
Gold is the P. T. Barnum of the oil industry. Same old stuff that he's being touting for years. Don't believe it.

Proof?

47 posted on 11/19/2001 11:16:51 AM PST by JoeSchem
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To: EricOKC
According to one source, at its largest, great Salt Lake had an area of 6,200 sq km or 6.2 billion sq m. At a uniform depth of 1/2 ft., if I haven't made a mistake, that would be a volume of 1.88 trillion liters.
48 posted on 11/19/2001 11:22:29 AM PST by Aurelius
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To: Double Tap
The post above the post that says "see above"

The Russians are milking basement rock like crazy and it's helped to drive oil prices down to their current levels.

49 posted on 11/19/2001 11:23:16 AM PST by spycatcher
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To: FairWitness
"It's life Jim, but not as we know it"!

Maybe oil is a byproduct of Hortas.

50 posted on 11/19/2001 11:24:21 AM PST by CubicleGuy
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