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Abiotic Theory of Oil Formation
The Environmental Literacy Council ^

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.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: abiogenic; anwr; energy; oil; thomasgold
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To: Dog Gone

How do oil experts explain that hydrocarbons are common everywhere in the solar system?


51 posted on 11/30/2004 7:54:13 PM PST by PRUE (Prudence indeed dictates that governments should be changed when its time. We're long overdue.)
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To: PRUE
Hydrocarbons, yes, but oil, no. Methane is a common gas. Cow farts and volcanos both produce it.

It's entirely possible that much of a natural gas was produced from non-organic sources deep within the earth. Oil is different altogether.

52 posted on 11/30/2004 7:59:16 PM PST by Dog Gone
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To: FrankR

"Of course, I often wonder where all my extra coat hangers come from too...I think socks are the embryonic form of a coat hanger, 'cause everytime I lose a sock in the dryer, I find more coat hangers around. Hummmmmm"

Obviously we need an abiotic theory of coathanger formation. Time to call the Russians.


53 posted on 11/30/2004 8:08:24 PM PST by hinckley buzzard
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To: Dog Gone

We now know that carbon, the fourth most abundant element in the Universe after hydrogen, helium and oxygen, is almost certainly also the fourth most abundant in the planetary system; where it is predominantly in the form of hydrocarbons.
The major planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, have large amounts of methane and other hydrocarbon gases in their atmospheres.
Titan, a large satellite of Saturn, has methane and ethane in its atmosphere, and these gases form clouds and behave much like water does in the atmosphere of the Earth. Triton, a large satellite of Neptune, appears to have hydrocarbons mixed with water ices on its surface, as does the outermost planet known at this time, Pluto.
A large fraction of all the asteroids show a surface reflectance closely resembling that of tar, and the comets have hydrocarbons among the gases they emit.
The surface of the core of Comet Halley, recently observed by spacecraft, is most reasonably interpreted as one of tar.

Complex, polycyclic hydrocarbon molecules, similar to those in natural petroleum have been observed to be a prominent component of interplanetary dust grains that currently enter the Earth's upper atmosphere.


54 posted on 11/30/2004 8:12:31 PM PST by PRUE (Prudence indeed dictates that governments should be changed when its time. We're long overdue.)
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To: FrankR
Of course, I often wonder where all my extra coat hangers come from too...I think socks are the embryonic form of a coat hanger, 'cause everytime I lose a sock in the dryer, I find more coat hangers around. Hummmmmm

Nope. Paper clips are embryonic coat hangers

55 posted on 11/30/2004 8:15:46 PM PST by null and void (They killed three thousand Americans and now they're going to die.)
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To: Dog Gone

While I don't actually have a dog in this fight, since I'm perfectly willing to believe the biological origin of oil...

Still... I do wonder why, if this is a continual process of compressing biomass into oil... where is the halfway made oil?


56 posted on 11/30/2004 8:17:26 PM PST by Ramius (Dah dah dit dit dah dah?)
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To: TenthAmendmentChampion
I wonder why the dryer always gets blamed. How do we know it's not the washer or the hamper?

I'm more inclined to believe it's a conspiracy between the hamper and the washer to make the dryer look bad.

57 posted on 11/30/2004 8:18:47 PM PST by 1_Inch_Group
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To: skepsel

Or all the sea with oysters by Avram Davidson


58 posted on 11/30/2004 8:20:02 PM PST by null and void (They killed three thousand Americans and now they're going to die.)
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To: Ramius
While I don't actually have a dog in this fight, since I'm perfectly willing to believe the biological origin of oil...

What is served by 'fighting' about how oil is formed? Why not use all available ideas to find more? Could it be that some men believe that oil should be scarce & expensive? Hmmmmmm.

Still... I do wonder why, if this is a continual process of compressing biomass into oil... where is the halfway made oil?

According to Gold, its way down deep, in the "hot biosphere". -- A blasphemous idea, apparently.

59 posted on 11/30/2004 8:30:14 PM PST by PRUE (Prudence indeed dictates that governments should be changed when its time. We're long overdue.)
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To: Doctor Stochastic

Correct. Nor does the abiogenic theory explain why most oil provinces are associated with marine sediments and organic source rocks.


60 posted on 11/30/2004 8:38:05 PM PST by capitan_refugio
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To: FrankR

Plankton. Most oil is sourced from rocks which contains the remains of microscopic marine life. A good source rock might contain 1-2% organic material by weight. Extremely prolific source rocks, like the Monterey Formation of California contains up to 20% organic material by weight. It literally bleeds oil.


61 posted on 11/30/2004 8:42:01 PM PST by capitan_refugio
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To: PRUE

I'm not fighting about it...

If it is compressed biomass shouldn't the in-process oil be shallower than the "finished" product?


62 posted on 11/30/2004 8:42:21 PM PST by Ramius (Dah dah dit dit dah dah?)
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To: Dog Gone
Gold got to test his theories some years ago, by drilling a well in an impact feature known as the "Siljan Ring." It was a colossal failure.
63 posted on 11/30/2004 8:50:24 PM PST by capitan_refugio
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To: Ramius
While I don't actually have a dog in this fight, since I'm perfectly willing to believe the biological origin of oil...

What is served by 'fighting' about how oil is formed? Why not use all available ideas to find more?
Could it be that some men believe that oil should be scarce & expensive? Hmmmmmm.

Still... I do wonder why, if this is a continual process of compressing biomass into oil... where is the halfway made oil?

According to Gold, methane is being converted to oil way down deep, in the "hot biosphere". -- A blasphemous idea, apparently.

I'm not fighting about it...

I didn't claim you were. Those who 'own the dog' are fighting to keep oil scarce & expensive.

If it is compressed biomass shouldn't the in-process oil be shallower than the "finished" product?

Exactly. That's part of Golds theory on why the 'current wisdom' on oil formation is all wrong.

64 posted on 11/30/2004 8:58:45 PM PST by PRUE (Prudence indeed dictates that governments should be changed when its time. We're long overdue.)
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To: null and void
I think I understand the connection between sox's, paper clips and coat-hangers but where do all those shoes in the road come from?
65 posted on 11/30/2004 9:03:45 PM PST by fella
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To: fella

Feet.


66 posted on 11/30/2004 9:05:16 PM PST by null and void (Trebuchet ride, little girl???)
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To: fella

(Actually they start out as brake shoes. Don't EVER let on that you know...)


67 posted on 11/30/2004 9:07:16 PM PST by null and void (Trebuchet ride, little girl???)
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To: Ramius
Still... I do wonder why, if this is a continual process of compressing biomass into oil... where is the halfway made oil?

The process for coal is usually moss-like material, which becomes peat, which becomes Lignite, which becomes Bituminous coal, and which lastly becomes Anthracite coal. Oil formation is similar starting out with algae beds, which are mixed with sand and form sandstone, the sandstone becomes shale, then out of the shale the organic material is cooked and pressed out to migrate upward until it hits a non-porous layer where it is trapped and collects into an oil formation.

The answer to your question is then -- shale.

68 posted on 11/30/2004 9:49:31 PM PST by FreedomCalls (It's the "Statue of Liberty," not the "Statue of Security.")
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