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John Bonanno “The last century has been one of those periods of extraordinary change, the most amazing in human history. If, then, you ask me to put into one sentence the cause of that recent rapid and enormous change, I should reply, it is found in the discovery and utilization of the means by which heat energy can be made to do man's work for him.” – Robert A. Millikan, speech, “Science and the World Tomorrow” delivered at the opening of the New York World’s Fair, April 12, 1939 “Competition is a sin.” – John D. Rockefeller The Mystery of Oil Petroleum can be refined into an easily portable, deliverable, and potent fuel. It arguably is the defining ingredient of our civilization, such as it is. Yet, the origin of oil is mysterious. Although we are constantly inculcated with the term “fossil fuels” there is no unanimous agreement that petroleum (literally “rock oil”) was formed from dead animal and plant life, primarily in sediments at the bottom of the ocean. Some scientists believe that oil was produced from the common elements carbon and hydrogen under heat and pressure within the planet at the time of the formation of Earth; some believe petroleum existed in the solar system in the primordial stuff that would be used to form the planets before the Earth was made. (The atmospheres of the gas giant planets contain large amounts of the basic hydrocarbon, methane.) The idea that oil was formed without stacked dead plants transforming for eons in sediments is known as the abiotic or abiogenic theory of the origin of petroleum. Abiogenic theory has been around for hundreds of years in various guises. In 1877 Dmitri Mendeleev, who designed the first practical periodic table of the elements, was an early proponent of an abiotic origin of oil. Today the Russians, primarily, continue to seek oil without the assumption of fossil origin and are drilling deep wells and finding oil far below the levels that fossil fuel theory proposes that oil is formed or can be found. The Deepwater Horizon well is just such a deep hole drilled by a huge multinational corporation. It has gushed at high pressures vast quantities of petroleum that, I believe, fossil theory has difficulty explaining. Some argue that the absence of oil plumes in areas of the Earth associated with access to the deep interior of the planet argues against abiotic oil. But it can be retorted that those usually volcanic areas long ago spewed out and burned any associated oil and that remaining deep Earth oil is safely trapped by relatively stable sections of the crust of the Earth. We must also remember that the most easily accessible oil deposits are found in areas of major tectonic activity and fault zones. Abiotic theory does not necessarily propose ubiquitous oil evenly spread within the interior of the planet or close to the surface.
But abiogenic theory counters with the fact that this migration of oil would have contaminated it after bringing it into contact with both fossils and bacteria. like John D. including bacteria that feed on petroleum. is said about the origin of oil in the article “Petroleum”: “Most scientists believe oil was formed from the bodies of tiny plants that lived in the sea hundreds of millions of years ago when the sea covered large areas of what are now land masses.” The Brittanica gives us a longish 12 1/4 pages of text on “Petroleum” with only the quarter page quoted above explaining the origins of the stuff. and edited by persons at the University of Chicago. together with decomposition of the organic life. We note two hedges in the argument (I have put them in italics). Proponents of fossil theory lean heavily on the presence of fossil content in oil for proof. It yielded 35 barrels a day after striking oil at 69. may have a vested interest in promulgating the fossil fuel idea. natural gas. although abiogenic theory proposes much deeper levels of formation or primordial collection than fossil theory. which finally turned into rock. and coal are known as fossil fuels. If the world believed that oil . As ages passed. Because of their mutual derivation from organic material. the earth’s crust heaved and buckled and the heat and pressure caused by the overlaying rocks. owned by Rockefeller interests. is thought to have formed oil from the animals and plants in the deep buried layers. Some cynics note that it would be in the interest of 19th Century oil men. Pennsylvania in 1859. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil monopoly to popularize the notion that oil came from dead plants and animals and therefore was a commodity as scarce and difficult to find as a hen’s tooth.5 feet in bedrock. Then we must consider how all those dead “tiny plants” got to a depth of 30. and only this. This passage leads to an important question: Where did the carbon that life uses to form its structure come from? Other theories of life postulate that a soup of organic chemicals in water spontaneously gathered together to make life. In the 1961 edition this.Accepted Doctrine Let us look a little closer at the theory that oil was formed from the remains of dead organic materials.” “Later these sedimentary layers were covered by more mud and sand. which is not exactly a ringing or detailed explanation of the biological origins of oil. petroleum. The Encylopedia Brittanica. Where did those chemicals come from? Where did the vast amounts of carbon needed to make those vast deposits of dead creatures that made all the oil originate? One wonders how many “tiny plants” and animals had to die and for how long they collected and then one wonders how long it took to compress these “tiny plants” into petroleum under the assumptions of fossil fuel theory for the Deepwater well to ejaculate such huge amounts of oil under such high pressure for so many months. These animals and plants lived and died by the billions then sank to the bottom and mixed with mud and sand in layers called marine sediment. Oil struck at such shallow levels is assumed to have migrated from much deeper levels under the rules of both fossil fuel theory and abiogenic theory alike. the sea withdrew.000 feet under the earth’s crust. A Theoretical Comparison The first modern oil well was drilled in Titusville.
000 (estimates range from 35.055 feet (10. notably resistant to experimentation. that is.000 to 100. by the early 1970’s. The Elements of Oil Let me emphasize that I am no scientist. a vague and vast topic.685 metres) making it one of the deepest wells ever drilled by the oil and gas industry. if done right. far below the known depths of fossil residues. known oil reserves may have reached a “peak” yet oil appears to be quite plentiful at astounding depths. it is “well” worth it. then the world would have been reluctant to pay through the nose for oil. Big Oil and OPEC nations can be expected to find it in their interests to maintain this belief. Hubbert was known for the idea that thin plates in thrust faults could not move on the surface of the Earth without fracturing unless the plates floated on high pressure fluids. I must admit I will be disappointed if the abiogenic oil theory is correct. The Tiber well was drilled to a total depth of approximately 35. 2009 Transocean bragged in their own press releases at the time of their prowess in extremely deep water drilling and ultra deep drilling in other wells in the Gulf of Mexican and off Qatar. Yes. or to fight wars for it. as we have seen from the estimated gush rate of BP’s Deepwater well.132 feet (1. It seems to be reasonable that continental plates may also move across the Earth floating on the same basic lubricating fluid we pour into that old Buick 6. Deep drilling is an expensive process but. located in Keathley Canyon block 102. globalized petroleum based civilization. I would prefer that circumstances force us to kick the petroleum habit.000) barrels of oil a day for about 85 days from a depth of 35. Today. The Deepwater well operated by BP and Transocean was said to have gushed about 60. This may be the mysterious source that sometimes refills drained oil fields at easily workable depths. I ask again. I am by nature an artist and my undergraduate degree is in Anthropology. a maximum production point from which a steady decline would occur. “The well. I am neither a fan of our centralized. with slight fluctuations in a few years (likely caused by geo-political issues or recession) since the 1960’s to this day. By the way. I also believe that many environmentalists are very reluctant to face the possibility that abundant abiogenic oil lies deep below and romantically hope for and expect a near future when the world runs out of petroleum. more than six miles down. Appraisal will be required to determine the size and commerciality of the discovery. is in 4. Peak Oil Geologist Marion Hubbert first predicted that the world would reach “Peak Oil”.055 feet. But humor me as I continue . Before I continue.deposits were as plentiful as they have proved to be. nor of the catastrophic environmental and social effects resulting from the collection and massive use of oil. shallow. Yet world oil production has risen. approximately 250 miles (400 kilometres) south east of Houston. The well found oil in multiple Lower Tertiary reservoirs. September.259 metres) of water. How did all those dead “tiny plants” get down that far? The total amount of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico can therefore be conservatively estimated at about 5.000 barrels by this one well.000.” –BP press release.
. All have been found in abiotic meteorite samples. That makes carbon very common indeed. carbon. They are the pristine primordial stuff of which the solar system and the Earth was formed. is the fourth most common element.9%. Their history proves beyond much doubt that they have remained free of carbon based life. What evidence exists to indicate that petroleum exists in the solar system. the prime ingredient of petroleum. Fossilized spores and pollen found in petroleum are often cited as biomarkers. Biomarkers Traditional petroleum geologists have claimed a plethora of chemicals as biomarkers in petroleum. I suspect much of the hydrogen and most of the helium (inert in most situations) in the solar system is locked up in the Sun. but may be possible in space. yet much of the carbon on these meteorites are in the form of hydrocarbons. Optical activity in petroleum specific to organic life can be explained as contamination. or. Investigations of these interesting meteorites indicate that they have remained at very low temperatures for 3 to 4. These include porphyrins. and clarins. Let us look at the most common elements in the universe. Carbon 3% Now let us examine the percentages of the elements in petroleum by weight. Hydrogen 11-14%. This process involves a rapid cooling that is impossible in sediments where dead plants supposedly formed petroleum. Sulfer .1-1. terpines. Porphyrins are especially cited by fossil fuel theorists as a biomarker. in very approximate percentages by mass. Oxygen 5. yet this same optical activity has been observed in fluids obtained from carbonaceous meteorites.52%.57%. It is reasonable to state that petroleum must be a very common substance if these two basic common elements are placed together under the right conditions in our solar system. Petroleum porphyrins always are linked to vanadium or nickel. including specific hydrocarbons cited by fossil fuel theorists as evidence of the fossil origin of petroleum.5 billion years. and they are biomarkers of the sediments passed by and leached into the petroleum on its way from deep interior sources reflecting many ages. isoprenoids.8% In our solar system. yet the porphyrins found in living creatures are linked to chains containing magnesium (in chlorophyll) or iron (in heme). far from known deposits of dead “tiny plants”? Carbonaceous Meteorites There is a rare class of meteorites known as carbonaceous chondrites which include carbon in their composition up to six percent of their mass. Nitrogen . Many of these chemicals are also byproducts of the Fischer-Tropsch process famously used by the Germans during World War II to synthesize gasoline from carbon monoxide and hydrogen (no plants required).1-1.this little Gedankenversuch (thought experiment). Hydrogen 70. Helium 27. as is hydrogen.8%. which are not found in biotic species. The optical activity of petroleum in polarized light has been cited as a proof of biotic origin. at least our solar system. Oxygen .1-.8%. the prime ingredients of petroleum. pristane. Carbon 84-87%. cholestane.
Russian Academy of Sciences Favorskii Street 1a. J.scribd. There was no alternative. I remember some kind of a picture of dead dinosaurs falling into tar pits as an example of how oil was made. TX 77060. those tar pits were already there before the dinosaurs. A. Glasby The Non-Organic Theory of the Genesis of Petroleum Samar Abbas The evolution of multicomponent systems at high pressures: VI. I saw the fossil fuel theory turned on its head. 664.Russian Academy of Sciences Gas Resources Corporation. Kenney. UKRAINE I. SHNYUKOV National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine Vladimirskaya Street 56. The following can be found searching on http://www. KUTCHEROV . F. Well. UKRAINE V. 11811 North Freeway. Houston. Bibliography Those who seek a much more technical discussion of these issues can peruse most of the original source documents used in writing this article.S.601 Kiev. Gonchara Street 55-B. As I studied this issue I came to wonder more and more if the carbon of life didn’t come from pools of petrochemicals breaking down on the surface of the earth to make soils or breaking down under the oceans to form the carbon in solution used by early plants. Ac. Bendeliani. Rotted and oxidized deposits of petroleum may have provided the raw materials of plants and animals. and Vladimir A. Ye. KENNEY Joint Institute of The Physics of the Earth . Nikolai A. Penner Dismissal of the Claims of a Biological Connection for Natural Petroleum. G. F. K.033 Irkutsk.com/ an invaluable resource for finding documents of all kinds. RUSSIA V. Alekseev Abiogenic Or Biogenic Petroleum S. U. Vladimir A.Final Thoughts This essay is intended to stimulate thought and open minds. Kutcherov.A. KARPOV Institute of Geochemistry . I was taught in school that oil came from dead plants and animals and that was it.S. Abiogenic Origin of Hydrocarbons: An Historical Overview Geoffrey P. The thermodynamic stability of the hydrogen–carbon system: The genesis of hydrocarbons and the origin of petroleum J. KRAYUSHKIN Institute of Geological Sciences O. 01054 Kiev. 252. Dead plants and animals did not form petroleum. F.
RUSSIA Petroleum Formation and Occurrence. Welte Thomas Gold.A. D.Russian State University of Oil and Gas Leninskii Prospect 65. N.020 Kazan.H. PLOTNIKOVA National Petroleum Company of Tatarstan (TatNeft S.P. Tissot. Tatarstan.) Butlerov Street 45-54.917 Moscow. 117. Professional Papers . RUSSIA I. 423. B.