A recently revived theory of oil formation suggests that the black stuff may never actually run out!
‘‘Crude oil and gas formation is the result of an on-going process, in other words, there is a potentially infinite supply, the implications of which would be profound if true.’’
We know how fossil fuels are formed.
The clue is in the name, after all.
Fossilized organic material - plants and animals - millions of years of heat, pressure and decomposition - and so on...
But did you know that there are other theories that challenge the fossil-based origins of coal, oil and gas?
Here we describe one such theory, known as abiotic oil owing to it’s non-organic (i.e. ‘abiotic’) formation process. In summary, the theory suggests that:
Oil and gas are produced deeper within the Earth’s mantle, and migrate upwards under pressure into the Earth’s crust where they are accessible to humans.
They can essentially form anywhere where the conditions are correct, meaning that reserves are likely much more ubiquitous than currently believed.
The degree of accuracy in finding oil can be dramatically improved, vastly reducing the cost of exploration and therefore the fuel itself.
Oil and gas does not require millions of years of the slow decomposition of organic material that is predicted by the fossil-origin theory.
Crude oil and gas formation is the result of an on-going process, in other words, there is a potentially infinite supply, the implications of which would be profound if true.
If you’re interested to learn more, please read on!
More Maverick Science Coming Out of Scandinavia!
The Atlas Report seems to feature the work of Scandinavian-based scientists in disproportionate numbers, for example;
The Swede Arhenius, one of the early pioneers of Greenhouse theory was mentioned in my What Is the Greenhouse Effect newsletter;
The Danish physicist Dr Henrik Svensmark has proposed a theory of climate change based on changes in solar cycles and their relationship to cloud formation as described in my Cosmic Rays to Climate Change newsletter; and
The (controversial) work of a New Zealand-born scientist living and working in Sweden who proposes that the entire Greenhouse gas paradigm might be based on a dud experiment was discussed in my (perhaps favorite!) Is the Greenhouse Theory Based on a Botched Experiment? article.
Adding to the list, I recently came across the work of a Swedish-based academic - a Russian geologist a professor at the Division of Energy Technology at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm. 1
Vladimir Kutcherov believes that hydrocarbons can be formed under the high-pressure, high-temperature conditions of the Earth’s upper mantle, without the involvement of fossils.
Kutcherov and his team in Stockholm have even simulated the process involving pressure and heat that occurs naturally in the inner layers of the earth that generates hydrocarbons, the primary component in coal, oil and natural gas.
How Does the Abiotic Oil Theory Work?
While the chemistry is quite complex, the principle behind the abiotic oil idea is actually quite simple.
Carbon present in the magma beneath the Earth’s crust reacts with hydrogen to form methane and other hydrocarbons (with many chemically complex intermediate stages). Certain mineral rocks such as granite and other silicon based rocks act as a non-depleting catalyst to speed up the process.
Experiments have shown that under extreme conditions of heat and pressure it is possible to convert iron oxide, calcium carbonate and water into methane as well as hydrocarbon’s containing up to ten carbon atoms. Such experiments have been undertaken last century by Russian scientists as well as more recently in the US, and even more recently in Sweden.
The conditions in the Earth’s mantle would be sufficient for these small hydrocarbons’ to polymerize into the longer chain molecules found in crude oil, for example. Moreover, the limited oxygen present in the Earth’s magma prevents the hydrocarbons from burning up despite the intense heat and pressure.
The hydrocarbons of abiotic origin then migrate out of the mantle into the crust until they escape to the surface or are trapped by impermeable strata, forming petroleum reservoirs.
Was There Any Doubt?
There are many features of the predominant fossil-origin theory which still apparently puzzle some scientists and which have left the door open, even if only slightly, to alternative origin theories. Here are a few:
1.The depth problem
Many geologists and other scientists have questioned how it can be that oil and gas form in reservoirs so deep within the earth’s crust when the organic material from which they supposedly originate was present at the surface.
Many understandably doubt the ability for oil and/ or it’s precursors to seep to depths many kilometers below the surface, sometimes through non-porous layers of rock. The deepest oil well is in Russia at around 12 km deep, but of course untapped or undiscovered reservoirs may well be present much deeper than that.
Some point to the fact that reservoirs often seem to refill after the abandonment of production activities. This recharge is often attributed to fluids slowly seeping from high pressure areas within the rock to the deplete and therefore low pressure areas from where extraction has occurred.
Many believe that the rate at which such reservoirs recharge is too fast for this explanation to be valid, however, and to proponents of the abiotic oil theory, reservoir recharging provides a key piece of evidence to back their claims.
It is undoubtedly the case that molecules called ‘biomarkers’ are present within oil. It is traditionally believed that such biomarkers are present as a result of oil’s organic-material origins.
Proponents of the abiotic oil theory argue that biomarker molecules come from microbes feeding on the oil during it’s upward migration through the Earth’s crust. It should be noted that these same biomarkers can be found in meteorites which presumably have never come into contact with organic material.
4.Non-sedimentary oil reservoirs
Some claim the fact that some oil reservoirs exist in non-sedimentary rocks such as granite, or porous volcanic rocks as evidence of the abiotic oil hypothesis . This is often countered with the explanation that non-sedimentary rocks can serve as reservoirs for biologically originated oil originating in nearby sedimentary rock.
The idea of abiotic oil is not new; it was developed during the cold war by Soviet scientists, and some claim that it led to the discovery of many fields including South Khylchuyu and Sakhalin II fields.
The idea that hydrocarbons can form inorganically is not controversial; the presence of smaller carbon chain hydrocarbons on Saturn’s moon Titan should be proof-enough, and it seems perfectly reasonable that hydrocarbons can form in the Earth’s mantle through similar processes.
But the idea that these can then form petroleum hydrocarbons, consisting of much larger and more complex hydrocarbon molecules is controversial and generally not well accepted in the scientific community.
But perhaps that is precisely why I find the idea so interesting!
Keep on asking questions, the scientific method demands it of you!
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