“There is a widely held belief that coal and oil are the result of a conversion from organic matter, both vegetable and biotic, that accumulated in sedimentary basins over geological time to become fossil fuels. It is presumed that vast periods of geological time converted the raw buried organic material into petroleum at the base of the sedimentary piles in the earth’s crust. An alternative theory proposes that coal and oil are abiotic in origin and derived from upper mantle processes as suggested by the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of abiotic oil, but also popularised by the late Tommy Gold in his controversial book, ‘The Deep Hot Biosphere’.*
In this guest blog post Louis Hissink explains the alternative theory, but begins by explaining how the current consensus came to be …
“Modern geological thinking remains wedded to its uniformitarian paradigm set up during the early nineteenth century when Charles Lyell, a Whig lawyer and amateur geologist, wrote his ‘Principles of Geology’ as a political work to refute the authority of the ruling Tories in England.
Rather than refute his critics facts with evidence, Lyell used his skills as a lawyer to convert his opponents by the art of persuasion, and his ‘Principles of Geology’ the main weapon.
Until then, geology was limited by the constraints of the Christian bible. There was a belief in one original catastrophe, the Noachian flood, which occurred during the recent geological past.
George Grinnell in his paper ‘The Origins of Modern Geological Theory’ describes the political circumstances that prompted the adoption of Lyellian doctrine or uniformitarianism that dominates modern geology thinking to this day.
Lyell’s Principles allowed the clerical geologists of his day to have their cake but also to eat it.
What Lyell did was to shift Biblical creation from its Ussherian date of 4004 BC to some more distant time by interposing an arbitrary period of geological time during which miracles could be invoked to explain geological observations under the principle that anything becomes possible if enough time is allocated. Lyell also dismissed the Old Testament as literature rather than a badly interpreted historical account of the Jewish Peoples and finally banished biblical catastrophism from the nascent science of geology.
When Lyell went to North America he visited the famous Horseshoe Falls (Niagara Falls) and asked a native at what rate the falls were receding. The native American answered that the rate was some 3 -4 feet per year. Lyell, however, assumed that as natives of a country tend to exaggerate their country’s facts then the quoted rate was too high and arbitrarily reduced it to 1 foot per year, subsequently establishing the date of the last ice-age at some 10,000 years past.
Is this relevant to abiotic oil? Yes because it demonstrates how the empirically obvious is changed by persuasive argument. Much of geology relies on the Lyellian system of persuasian and biogenic oil theory is no exception.
The paramount axiom in geology is that the key to the past is the present. Which means that what we observe, and have observed, of natural forces operating on the surface of the planet, in a geological sense, must explain the past. If the key to the past is indeed the present, then somewhere on the surface of the earth there must exist modern day precursors of the ancient coal seams and petroleum deposits — accumulations of vegetable and organic masses in sedimentary basins, pre-fossil deposits as it were — to produce tomorrow’s coal and oil.
It is generally assumed that the Pacific Ocean is of Jurassic age but no widespread accumulations of organic detritus have been found on the seafloor or in its thin sedimentary cover, and equally so for the other seas over the earth. Nor are there any enormous ever increasing accumulations of organic material on the land surfaces comprising dead animals or forests. Of course a minor amount of organic detritus does accumulate in the existing sediments today, but not at sufficient quantities to allow the interpretation that one day in the future oil will be produced from them. How could so much oil be produced from so few organisms?
But it is an irrefutable fact that the earth’s biosphere is continually recycling itself, whether via the plant or animal kingdoms and nowhere are deposits of organic material that could be the future coal and oil deposits forming. If petroleum is truly biotic, then enormous masses of organic material must be accumulating somewhere on the earth’s surface to form future oils. Why don’t we see them? Could the biogenic oil theory be wrong?
In the geological record the past mass extinctions of the biosphere of both plant an animal, are preserved with amazing fidelity in the sedimentary strata except that there are no coal and oil deposits associated with these fossils.
Strange, fossils that are not oil.
Of course coal has abundant plant remnants in it but as Tommy Gold pointed out, if coal is the result of compressing hundreds of meters of vegetation debris, then we certainly should not see undeformed tree trunks passing through the coal seams.
Unfortunately Christian fundamentalists have produced most of the scientific evidence for this, guaranteeing it will not be considered as “scientific” evidence. It is not so much the evidence as the interpretation of that evidence which is problematical.
This is a serious problem for the fossil fuel theory – just how are these enormous deposits of petroleum formed from organic material, given that we are not observing any modern day accumulation of organic material. (That minor plankton debris in sediments is capable of accumulation in the sedimentary basins requires a serious stretch of the imagination to produce the trillions of barrels of oil so far discovered). Does this then mean that it occurred in the geological past but not during the present? This is a violation of the key geological paradigm – that the present can explain the past.
Just how much oil do we have?
According to the US Geological Survey, “the earth currently has more than three trillion barrels of conventional, recoverable oil resources of which 1 trillion has already been produced” according to Mark Nolan, chairman of ExxonMobil addressing the Asia Pacific Oil and Gas Conference in Sydney during September 2006.
Now how much organic material has had to accumulate over geological time to yield these enormous oil reserves. It means living organisms being continuously created on the surface of the earth but then removed from their environment to form deposits of organic matter in ancient sediments where they can be preserved. We do not observe this occurring today so how could we assume that it happened in the past?
Furthermore, surely there must also be ancient deposits of organic material not yet converted to oil in the stratigraphical record too, but no, no such deposits have been discovered. And in any case how are fossils formed in the first place? Again we do not see them forming today. Animals die, decompose and are recycled into the biosphere.
However, in order to form a fossil, all biological processes have to cease to allow preservation. If putrefaction is allowed to proceed, the animal rots and disintegrates back into its environment. The quickest way to form a fossil from a living animal is to take it rapidly away from its normal environment and place it in an alien one so a snake in a tropical rainforest will be rapidly fossilised if quickly placed in the Antarctic.
So how does one accumulate tens of trillions of tonnes of organic matter in sediments without putrefaction or recycling in the biosphere to form the vast deposits that are then transformed into petroleum.
The only reason petroleum is called a fossil fuel is because it contains organic debris but it is quite obvious that if petroleum is abiotic and derived from the mantle, then as an excellent solvent of organic material, up-welling hydrocarbons will naturally incorporate the organic debris found in sedimentary rocks.
Another argument is that no oil has been found in the crystalline basement regions of the earth. Hardly surprising when the majority of petroleum geologists believe in biogenic oil and thus only look for it in sedimentary rocks. They have not found oil in granite simply because they have not drilled granite for oil on the basis of preconceived ideas that it is not possible. Unfortunately for the fossil fuelers petroleum is being found and commercially extracted in fractured granite basement off Vietnam.
According to this website: “ Since its foundation VIETSOVPETRO has drilled over 140 thousand meters of exploration and 800 thousand meters of production wells. As a result of this seven oil fields were discovered, the largest are White Tiger, Dragon and Dai Hung that are already operated by the Joint Venture. White Tiger is so far the largest oil field on the continental shelf of Vietnam. Main reserve of this oil field is concentrated in fractured granite basement that is unique in the world oil and gas production practice”.
Robert O. Russell, a wellsite geologist who drilled into crystalline basement granitic shield rocks for the express purpose of commercial hydrocarbon exploration at Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, has pointed out that there are more than 400 wells and fields worldwide, both off-shore and on-shore that produce or have recently produced oil from igneous rocks.
This fact alone indicates that many aspects relating to the origin of petroleum need to be revised.
Thomas Gold, a distinguished proponent of the non-organic theory, has expanded the application of the non-organic theory to all hydrocarbons, including coal.
An international conference on ‘Oil in Granite’ was held recently in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia. One of the papers by Kosachev et al. from the Institute of Organic Physics and Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, Kazan, concluded that much evidence existed in favour of the non-organic theory, and that viable mechanisms for the creation of migration pathways existed.
Recently, C. Warren Hunt, a geologist of the Anhydride Oil Corporation, Calgary, Canada, has proposed a variant of the non-organic theory. Hunt sets forth the notion that up-welling deep non-organic methane is bacterially modified into petroleum at shallow depths.
There is one other difficulty with the fossil-fuel theory, the violation of the second law of thermodynamics. The only hydrocarbon that can be created at the pressures and depths of the sedimentary basins is methane. Yet by the use of vast amounts of geological time, modern geology asserts that somehow vast quantities of organic debris, not observed accumulating anywhere, is converted to high order hydrocarbons by undefined processes. Saudi Crude, for example, which is essentially grease.
In summary, petroleum, or rock-oil, is not derived from the burial of organic debris in sedimentary basins. It is continually produced from the earth’s mantle as described by the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of abiotic oil. It is emphatically not a fossil fuel derived from dead dinosaurs and fish and no one has yet been able to generate petroleum (apart from methane) from organic matter at the temperatures and pressures at the base of sedimentary basins.“