Friday, June 28, 2013

On Abiotic Oil Theory, Geology, and Possible Life Origins

Abiotic Oil a Theory Worth Exploring


It's our nature to sort, divide, and classify. We label ourselves to identify political leanings, religious beliefs, the food we enjoy, and the sports teams we cheer. The oil industry too has its own distinct labels which include the "Peak Oil" theorists, those who believe the world is fast depleting the finite supply of fossil fuel; and the pragmatists, those who recognize that engineering and technological advances in oil drilling and extraction continuously identify new reserves that make oil plentiful.

And there's a third group you may not know. These people are deeply interested in oil and its origins, but their advocacy of "abiotic theory" has many dismissing them as heretics, frauds, or idealists. They hold that oil can be derived from hydrocarbons that existed eons ago in massive pools deep within the earth's core. That source of hydrocarbons seeps up through the earth's layers and slowly replenishes oil sources. In other words, it turns the fossil-fuel paradigm upside down.

Perhaps the breakthrough for this theory came when Chris Cooper's story appeared April 16, 1999, in The Wall Street Journal about an oil field called Eugene Island. Here's an excerpt:

Production at the oil field, deep in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, was supposed to have declined years ago. And for a while, it behaved like any normal field: Following its 1973 discovery, Eugene Island 330's output peaked at about 15,000 barrels a day. By 1989, production had slowed to about 4,000 barrels a day.
Then suddenly—some say almost inexplicably—Eugene Island's fortunes reversed. The field, operated by PennzEnergy Co., is now producing 13,000 barrels a day, and probable reserves have rocketed to more than 400 million barrels from 60 million. Stranger still, scientists studying the field say the crude coming out of the pipe is of a geological age quite different from the oil that gushed 10 years ago.

According to Cooper,

Thomas Gold, a respected astronomer and professor emeritus at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, has held for years that oil is actually a renewable, primordial syrup continually manufactured by the Earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attacked by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs, he says.
All of which has led some scientists to a radical theory: Eugene Island is rapidly refilling itself, perhaps from some continuous source miles below the Earth's surface. That, they say, raises the tantalizing possibility that oil may not be the limited resource it is assumed to be.
More recently, Forbes presented a similar discussion. In 2008 it reported a group of Russian and Ukrainian scientists say that oil and gas don't come from fossils; they're synthesized deep within the earth's mantle by heat, pressure, and other purely chemical means, before gradually rising to the surface. Under the so-called abiotic theory of oil, finding all the energy we need is just a matter of looking beyond the traditional basins where fossils might have accumulated.

The idea that oil comes from fossils "is a myth" that needs changing according to petroleum engineer Vladimir Kutcherov, speaking at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. "All kinds of rocks could have oil and gas deposits."

Alexander Kitchka of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences estimates that 60 percent of the content of all oil is abiotic in origin and not from fossil fuels. He says companies should drill deeper to find it.

Is abiotic theory the real deal? Is Eugene Island "Exhibit A?" Look how long it's taken for this conversation to reach a tipping point!

Abiotic Oil and Gas: A Theory That Refuses To Vanish


In the West it is almost universally held that all oil and gas is derived from fossils. This is not the case elsewhere, particularly among Russian and Ukrainian scientists who have, over several generations, tenaciously propounded the notion that oil and gas are abiotic, can be found deep below the surface of the earth in most parts of the world and in very large amounts.

Western geologists and scientists find the theory either annoying or amusing and refuse to consider it seriously although there are exceptions. The theory continues to be held in much higher regard by Russian scientists and geologists (including some working in the West) for historical and perhaps ideological reasons.

Many Russian geologists and petroleum researchers credit the rise of Russia over the past 50 years as the largest producer of oil and second largest producer of natural gas in the world to the successful application of the abiogenic theory of oil and gas formation. The Russians claim to have successfully drilled over 300 ultra deep (around 40,000feet) oil and gas wells through granite and basalt based on this theory. These claims have been questioned by Western geologists and petroleum engineers.

The most recent attempt at gaining credence for the abiogenic idea was only a few months ago. A research team at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, led by Vladimir Kutherov, demonstrated that animal and plant fossils are not necessary for producing oil and natural gas. The team simulated the thermal and pressure processes that occur in the inner layers of the earth to generate hydrocarbons, the chief component of oil and natural gas. The team also noted that oil and gas has been found 7 miles below ground in Texas and fossil oil and gas could not, via, gravity have seeped down to such depths.

According to the Prof. Kutherov all types of bedrock can serve as reservoirs of hydrocarbon energy and their method of discovery can enhance exploration success rates from 20 % to 70 %. The research team has developed a new technique for locating oil and gas resources. It consists of dividing the globe into a fine grid, which corresponds to underground fissures or migration channels. Hydrocarbon resources will be found wherever migration channels intersect, predicts the team.

An abiogenic theory of petroleum is not new, dating from the 16thcentury .In the 19th century two very accomplished scientists, Alexander von Humboldt and Dimitri Mendeleev( of the Periodic Table fame) advanced the concept. In the 20th century the Russian- Ukrainian School of geology emerged in the Soviet Union to vigorously formulate the modern theory of abiogenic oil and gas. In the West, the most eloquent and determined proponent was the famous astronomer Thomas Gold. After his death, Jack Kenney of Gas Resources Corporation has become the leading Western exponent.

The prevailing abiotic theory is that the full complement of hydrocarbons found in oil and gas are generated in the mantle (40 to 90 miles below the surface of the earth) by non-biological processes. These hydrocarbons then migrate out of the mantle into the crust where they escape or are trapped by impermeable strata that lead to reservoir formation.

Specific examples to support the abiotic theory have been cited over the years. Each example has been dismissed by the Western establishment as specious while it has been hailed by proponents as convincing. This is always so when a deeply entrenched belief and massive money flows encounter a subversive idea that profoundly threatens the prevailing order. The debate is becoming increasingly shrill as the two diametrically opposed views of Peak Oil and Abiogenic(Superabundant) Oil collide in a clash not only of science but, far more importantly, of money and ideology.

Specific examples cited are the impressive recharging from below, not the sides, of the Eugene Island field (wells in deep decline exhibiting sharply increased production; recovery far in excess of estimated remaining reserves) off new Orleans; the White Tiger oil field in Vietnam( discovered by a Russian company, Vietsovpetro) in fractured basement granite; the Panhandle-Hugoton field (high helium content) in Teaxs-Oklahoma, the Shengli Field and Songliao Basin in Northeastern China( supposedly mantle derived natural gas), and the well known Chimaera natural gas seep in Turkey. This seep has been known to be continuously active for thousands of years and represents the largest cataloged emission of abiogenic methane on land. The vast amounts of methane released by the biggest mud volcano eruptions are allegedly greater than found in the most abundant natural gas fields in commercial production. The presence of considerable amounts of hydrocarbons not associated with tectonic structures is also presented as evidence and, of course, the enormous methane hydrate deposits found all over the world are asserted to be of abiogenic origin. Finally, theory advocates aver that the impressive record of recent ultra deep drilling in the Gulf of Mexico supports their idea.

The matrix of scientific, political and business interests in the West, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Brazil (an emerging oil exporter of consequence) and Venezuela that refuses to countenance abiogenic theories is big and potent. These interests want oil and gas to be scarce and expensive for a variety of reasons. It is natural and understandable that no credible test of the theory will be attempted within the ambit of these interests.

The Russian authorities and oil and gas companies seem to be deeply conflicted between intellectual pride (it is their theory, after all) and the desire to keep oil and gas prices high via the idea of scarcity when talking to the rest of the world about their abiogenic oil and gas reserves.

It seems to the author, however, that China and India have compelling economic and national security interests in proving or disproving the theory, convincingly. If the theory is false then they are no worse off than today. If it is correct then they, of the major nations in the world, have the most to gain in subverting the prevailing oil and gas order of the world. So, of course, do scores of millions of ordinary Americans who care nothing about theories but want cheap, abundant, reliable oil and gas.

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