Hoystory poses a thought-provoking question with potentially dramatic consequences for the concept of “peak oil”:
What if “fossil fuels” weren’t made of fossils at all? What if the earth naturally made petroleum? What if gasoline was a renewable resource?
Imagine the howls from the environmentalist left if there was no such thing as “peak oil.”
In answer of the questions, Hoystory points to the following:
Lost in the big news last week — the race for the Democratic nomination, the reeling U.S. economy, the ongoing life/death saga that is “Dancing with the Stars” — came word that a new deep-water exploration area off the coast of Brazil could contain as much as 33 billion barrels of oil. How much is that? If estimates are accurate, the Brazilian find would amount to the world’s third-largest oil reserve. In comparison, the U.S. has proven oil reserves of 21.8 billion barrels.
What makes the Brazil find interesting is really the gold; not as in “black gold,” but as in Thomas Gold:
The Austrian-born astrophysicist, who died in 2004, was a renowned maverick in the science community, a brilliant rogue whose anti-establishment proclamations were often proven right. For instance, in the 1960s, as NASA began its assault on the moon, many scientists debated whether the moon’s surface was comprised of hard rock or might in fact be a layer of dust so thick that, upon touchdown, the Apollo lunar modules would sink out of sight. Gold, studying evidence from microimpacts, moon cratering, electrostatic fields, and more, boldly predicted that the astronauts’ boots would sink into the lunar regolith no more than three centimeters. And, give or take a centimeter or so, he was proven right.
What does Gold have to do with the recent Brazil oil find? In 1999, Gold published “The Deep Hot Biosphere,” a paper that postulated that coal and oil are produced not by the decomposition of organic materials, but in fact are “abiogenic” — the product of tectonic forces; i.e., deeply embedded hydrocarbons being brought up and through the earth’s mantle and transformed into their present states by bacteria living in the earth’s crust.
The majority of the world’s scientists scoff at Gold’s theory, and “fossil fuel” remains the accepted descriptor of oil. Yet in recent years Russia has quietly become the world’s top producer of oil, in part by drilling wells as deep as 40,000 feet — far below the graveyards of T-Rex and his Mesozoic buddies.
Is it possible that Thomas Gold was right again, and that the earth is actually still producing oil? It’s tantalizing to think so.
(emphasis added; more on Thomas Gold here.) If Gold was right and oil is abiogenically produced, then the fears of “peak oil” are premature at best. Of course, that assumes that the world does not consume the oil faster than the earth can produce it or that, alternatively, we don’t learn how to create artificially. But according to Gold’s theory, there is a staggering amount of oil to be discovered beneath the Earth’s crust, much more than we could rapidly consume. The following is from an interview Gold did with Wired Magazine (edited for clarity):
WIRED: How much more oil is there in your view of the world than in the view of traditional petroleum geology?
GOLD: Oh, a few hundred times more.
WIRED: But not all of it is accessible at the moment?
GOLD: It becomes accessible by recharging, and the recharging process I think I completely understand. There’s a stepwise approximation of the pore pressure to the rock pressure – that will always be the case if the stuff is coming up from below. You will not just fill up one reservoir at the top in the shallow levels. It will always be underlaid by another reservoir, and that in turn by another, and so on for a long way down.
WIRED: And by pumping out oil from the highest reservoir you release the pressure on the lower ones, allowing more oil to seep up.
GOLD: Yes, the partial seal between the surface reservoir and the one below in some cases appears to break open violently.
The most obvious evidence that Gold’s theory may be correct is that Russia seems to have reaped huge rewards by adhering to it. Hoystory specifically noted this part of the Brazil story:
Yet in recent years Russia has quietly become the world’s top producer of oil, in part by drilling wells as deep as 40,000 feet — far below the graveyards of T-Rex and his Mesozoic buddies.
In his interview, Gold explained why Russia would have set its compass to the abiogenic star of oil production:
WIRED: Were there precedents for your idea that deep hydrocarbons are a normal fact of planetary geology?
GOLD: In the ’60s, Sir Robert Robinson [a Nobel Prize-winning chemist and president of Britain's Royal Society] said that petroleum looks like a primordial hydrocarbon to which biological products have been added.
WIRED: And what was the response?
GOLD: The response was that I quoted his remark in many of my papers. But the profession of petroleum geology did not pick it up. Mendeleyev [the Russian chemist who developed the periodic table] in the 1870s had said much the same thing, but Robinson had done a more modern analysis of oil and had come to the same conclusion. And, in fact, the Russians have in the last 20 years done an even more precise analysis that completely proves the point. The fact that Mendeleyev was in favor of a primordial origin of petroleum had a great effect – you see, to most Russians, Mendeleyev was the greatest scientist that Russia ever had.
So I guess, in reality, it isn’t Gold’s theory at all, but one posited by a Russian scientist from the late 1800’s, and one that was echoed by the founder of Britain’s national academy of science. Yet somehow the term “fossil fuels” has become fixed, and the concept that oil comes from the decay of death rather than the regeneration of life is treated as gospel. The consensus must have been against them …
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