Endless Oil?

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krogoth's picture
krogoth
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Endless Oil?

Forbes.com

Energy & Genius
Endless Oil?
11.13.08, 6:00 PM ET

 

Everybody knows that oil and gas drilled out of the earth comes from the remains of plants and animals trapped underground millions of years ago. This received wisdom so dominates our thinking that it is enshrined in the very language we use--fossil fuels. They took eons to form, and we are using them up far faster than they can be replenished.

What if the whole theory is wrong?

That's the premise of a small but passionate band of Russian and Ukrainian contrarians. They argue 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. … We need to change this myth," says petroleum engineer Vladimir Kutcherov, 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 brashly estimates that 60% of the content of all oil is abiotic in origin, and not from fossil fuels. He says companies should drill deeper to find it.

Kitchka says oil may be found in all sorts of geological structures such as volcanic rock or deep-sea thermal vents where companies aren't looking today.

Kutcherov points to a handful of productive oil fields in Vietnam and elsewhere that lay in hard rock such as granite. Traditional theory says oil shouldn't be present there. Certain wells in the Gulf of Mexico have produced more oil than expected. The abiotic crowd says they are slowly being refilled from a deeper source.

The abiotic oil theory goes back centuries and includes as its prominent champions Dimitri Mendeleev, best known for inventing the periodic table. It didn't gain much visibility in America until the late Cornell University astronomer Thomas Gold championed it in the 1980s. He said that oil contains organic compounds not because it is derived from fossils but because giant colonies of deep-earth bacteria feed on deep hydrocarbon pools way down in the mantle.

In the 1980s, he convinced the Swedish government and investors to drill four miles through solid granite in central Sweden. They eventually recovered 84 barrels of oil. Gold considered it a scientific success, even though the project was a commercial failure.

To prove that abiotic oil is possible, in 2002 Kutcherov superheated calcium carbonate, water and iron in a pressure chamber and then cranked it up to produce 30,000 times atmospheric pressure, simulating the conditions present in the earth's mantle. Sure enough, about 1.5% of the material converted into hydrocarbons, according to results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Most of it was methane and other gases, but about 10% was heavier oil components.

Since then, in work slated for publication, Kutcherov has shown that methane will convert into more complicated hydrocarbons under certain extreme conditions. Small amounts of natural gas that could be abiotic in origin have also been found in deep-sea vents. Kutcherov says methane is probably generated in the mantle, and depending on the conditions, it turns into heavier hydrocarbons as it bubbles up towards the surface.

Skeptics say that while traces of abiotic hydrocarbons may exist, little data support the idea of economically meaningful deposits. "Companies have been looking for oil for 100 years. If all this abiogenic stuff is there, why haven't they found it?" asks geochemist Geoffrey Glasby, who spent nine months investigating the matter for a 2006 review paper in Resource Geology. He concluded the totality of the evidence did not support the concept.

"There is a difference between a few parts per million and tens of millions of barrels," says Chevron geologist Barry Jay Katz, another skeptic. He notes that the theory fails to explain the wide variety of biological compounds found in oil from different parts of world. Oil from younger rocks contains compounds linked to flowering plants, but oil from older rocks formed before flowering plants existed contains only more primitive organic compounds.

"If you buy the theory, it says you will never run out of oil; there is an infinite supply, and don't worry about anything," says Katz. "That is not the way it seems to be working."

American geologists might be convinced if the abiotic theorists can find big new oil fields using their methods. Kutcherov has developed a methodology for searching for deep migration channels where abiotic oil might rise to the surface. If he can raise money from investors, he hopes to begin searching for abiotic oil deposits in east Texas.

 

mainecooncat's picture
mainecooncat
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Re: Endless Oil?

Been there. Done that.

But I'll give the subject a few minutes nevertheless.

First, many of the complications surrounding conventional or "normal" oil are equally (if not more so) applicable to "abiotic" oil.

Where is it, and, if it exists in abundance, why haven't we found it as of Winter 2008?

If we do find more than mere traces or suggestions of existence, will it be in large enough quantities to matter -- meaning will there be enough to power the globe for decades (because a few years worth of oil at this point is more or less moot in the macro view)?

According to "abiotic" oil theory, this oil primarily exists in ultra-deep (deeper than we've ever gone before) deposits that would require brand-new, ultra-deep drilling technology and infrastructure that does not yet exist. Where is the money and incentive going to come from to facilitate such projects? Also, don't forget that the infrastructure for "normal" oil is dilapidated and in need of trillions (some say tens of trillions) of dollars of investment over the next decade or so.

Vast, new discoveries of "abiotic" oil won't relieve global geopolitical tension but will instead just as likely stoke them.

Second, this isn't an either/or proposition. The existence of "abiotic" oil does not smote out the theory of "fossil fuels," nor does the existence of organic matter in oil rule out "abiotic" oil existing at all. It's not a God exists or it doesn't type debate.

The betting man in me says that oil is the ultimate compost and the vast majority of it within the planet is of biological origins. Coexisting, though, is oil (or perhaps it should have a different name) of "abiotic" origins that (and I'll repeat a key point here) may or may not exist in quantities that matter.

krogoth's picture
krogoth
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Yea I dont believe it much as well

Yea I don't believe it much as well,

 

I have wrote about deep drilling technology here before, and we are decades away from it. I just wanted to show a different viewpoint, as I always do here, so we all know the 2 sides to the story. If I had my way, we would go back to horses and carriages, and only use oil for manufacturing and major transportation.

 

Oh damn, I may be wrong. I watched an asteroid movie once, and it seems Bruce Willis has come up with a way to drill into anything, even in space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mainecooncat's picture
mainecooncat
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 7 2008
Posts: 488
Re: Yea I dont believe it much as well

Hey Krogoth,

[quote=krogoth]

I just wanted to show a different viewpoint, as I always do here, so we all know the 2 sides to the story.

[/quote]

That's what I figured, and kudos to you for doing it.

I like the whole abiotic discussion because it allows people to see (as I mentioned above) that it's not an either/or scenario. So if you wake up one day to a headline that reads, "ABIOTIC OIL REALLY EXISTS!", our troubles will still exist in spades.

[quote=krogoth]

If I had my way, we would go back to horses and carriages, and only use oil for manufacturing and major transportation.

[/quote]

I agree, because for the most part this is true:

Simple = Happy

Complex = Worried 

rlee's picture
rlee
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Posts: 148
Re: Endless Oil?
krogoth wrote:

 

If I had my way, we would go back to horses and carriages, and only use oil for manufacturing and major transportation.

 

You do realize the Amish are laughing there asses off at us right now?! 

switters's picture
switters
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Posts: 744
Re: Endless Oil?

The abiotic oil fantasy is such a transparent mechanism of denial that I'm almost surprised when I see it promoted as a real possibility.  It's an indicator of how utterly unable some people are to accept the reality of peak oil and its consequences.  

I suspect we'll see a whole lot more of this kind of wild fantasy and wishful thinking as the news of peak oil trickles down to the masses.  Once they begin to realize that the party truly is over, a significant number will latch on to any theory that promises the return of "the good ole' days" - no matter how disconnected from reality it is.

 

krogoth's picture
krogoth
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 18 2008
Posts: 576
Dammit Bob

Dammit Bob,

 

I like the Amish way, I just detest the fashion.

 

 

 

 

fombie's picture
fombie
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 22 2008
Posts: 16
Endless Oil

 

So according to Forbes.com abiotic oil peaked in the eighties, at 86 barrels LOL !

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