Peak Oil News: More Evidence For Sustainable Oil

Friday, August 13, 2004

More Evidence For Sustainable Oil


SEATTLE - The public's most widely known piece of geological knowledge--how petroleum and natual-gas deposts formed on Earth---is false, a noted scientist says. Surprisingly, his campaign to rewrite school textbooks and encyclopedias is getting grudging support from some geologists, who acknowledge that petroleum's origins may be dramatically different than what people believe.

Millions of Americans learned in grade school that oil deposits originated in the age of dinosaurs, when vegetation in lush forests was buried and subjected to high heat and pressure. Those extreme conditions supposedly transformed the hydrocarbons in vegetation into the hydrocarbons of petroleum.

"That's nonsense," snapped Thomas Gold, a scientist at Cornell University. "There's not a shred of evidence from chemistry, geology, or any other science to support it. It has no place in textbooks and school classrooms."

In appearances at the annual meeting of The American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle here that ended Thursday, Gold repeatedly challenged geologists to reconsider and reject the conventional theory.

Gold also presented evidence that oil and gas deposits on Earth are primordial. That means they came with the planet. They were part of the original raw material that formed the sun and planets, and deposited deep below Earth's surface when the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago.

Some of the oil gradually oozes upward from these original deposits 100 to 200 miles below the surface and collects where oil drillers can reach it.

In one presentation, Gold described shafts that he and associates drilled in an ancient meteorite impact crater in Sweden. They drilled into a kind of rock that was not sedimentary, not associated with the sediments believed to produce oil deposits.

At a depth of about 4 miles, they encluntered a hydrocarbon oil similar to light petroleum that Gold believes was primordial oil. He noted a variety of evidence to support the belief. Gold estimated that this single site contained "more petroleum than all of Saudi Arabia." With current technology, however, pumping it out would be impossible, he added. Gold contended that many other planets and planetary bodies in the solar system have similar deep deposits of hydrocarbons, which are the stuff of oil and natural gas. Gold argues that a primordial origin for petroleum is the only way to explain its chemical composition.

Petroleum originating from plant matter decayed by bacteria, similar to bacteria that decay backyard garden-compost piles, would resemble a microbial product. Instead, petroleum is chemically similar to a pure hydrocarbon that has been contaminated with microbial material. That contamination, he argues, occurred as petroleum seeped upward through rock now known to contain enormous amounts of bacterial life. In moving upward, petroleum also collected helium, explaining why oil wells are such a rich source of helium.

"This is the only possible explanation," Gold said. "The association of helium with petroleum has not been accounted for in any other way."

How do geologists respond?

They're beginning to listen, according to Michael Carr, who appeared on a panel where Gold presented his theory. Carr is a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va. "Dr. Gold has some very, very good evidence, especially that involving helium," Carr said. "He certainly is challenging the geological community. There is a debate within the gological community." Carr said geologists plan to reconsider the conventional theory about petroleum formation at a major meting later in the year.


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