06 February 2008

As the Oil Seeps: Abiotic Oil--Not If, But How Much?

A recent research paper published in Science presents evidence for the possibility of an "abiotic petroleum production" deep within the earth.
Low-molecular-weight hydrocarbons in natural hydrothermal fluids have been attributed to abiogenic production by Fischer-Tropsch type (FTT) reactions, although clear evidence for such a process has been elusive. Here, we present concentration, and stable and radiocarbon isotope, data from hydrocarbons dissolved in hydrogen-rich fluids venting at the ultramafic-hosted Lost City Hydrothermal Field. A distinct "inverse" trend in the stable carbon and hydrogen isotopic composition of C1 to C4 hydrocarbons is compatible with FTT genesis. Radiocarbon evidence rules out seawater bicarbonate as the carbon source for FTT reactions, suggesting that a mantle-derived inorganic carbon source is leached from the host rocks. Our findings illustrate that the abiotic synthesis of hydrocarbons in nature may occur in the presence of ultramafic rocks, water, and moderate amounts of heat.___Science

No big surprise, really, given the apparent abundance of hydrocarbons in various extraterrestrial environments.

Here is the abiotic oil theory in brief:
....in the 1950s, some renegade Russian scientists developed an “abiotic” theory that suggested oil is inorganic and has no dead animal or plant origins. The theory, elaborated upon and popularized by the late Cornell University astronomy professor Thomas Gold in scientific papers and his intriguing book, “The Deep Hot Biosphere,” proposes that crude oil forms in a set of natural and ongoing geologic interactions five to 15 miles below Earth’s surface.

The theory holds that methane-based gases rise from the mantle and then condense into heavy hydrocarbons as they hit high temperature zones near the crust. This methane dew, according to the theory, is what we call crude oil; meanwhile, methane-based gas that escapes the condensation process and rises through rock fissures into big gaps above are what we call natural gas.___Source

Suggesting that the likelihood of such abiotic hydrocarbons implies the impossiblity of "peak oil" would be both premature and simplistic.

There have been many "peak oils", and there are likely to be more over time. These are caused by various market and economic forces. Even without significant quantities of abiotic petro-fuels, the more apocalyptic scenarios of peak oil doom seekers still provides more amusement than concern. Where there is money to be made, intelligent humans capable of grasping opportunities will use markets as they exist, to accumulate wealth. The problem-solving approach to wealth formation (as opposed to the piracy and warlordism approach favoured by government-oriented individuals) is likely to continue to steer more advanced nations away from the many possible cataclysms that are always there, waiting. This will be true as long as opportunity societies exist.

H/T Coyote Blog

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Blogger SensibleEnergy said...

"the impossiblity of "peak oil" would be both premature and simplistic."

Did you mean to say "possibility?"

Wednesday, 06 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Until we know how much abiotic oil is there, and how quickly it might seep back into drilled fields, it would be premature to declare peak oil obsolete.

If these hydrocarbons are of primordial origin as it seems, there may be a lot, or not. We will have to wait and see.

Abiotic oil and biotic oil coexist in the crust. As geologists learn better what to look for to find abiotic deposits, we may be in for some very big finds.

Wednesday, 06 February, 2008  
Blogger SensibleEnergy said...

Thanks for the clarification. Now that I re-read it, I feel embarrassed; I should have read it a couple more times. I guess I would have been helped if the word "however" appeared at the begining, or the end, of the sentence.

I find this blog invaluable, and I read it nearly every day; thanks for all the work that you do.

Thursday, 07 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Thank you for the comments, SE.

I freely admit that my phrasing was a bit convoluted. That happens when my mind gets ahead of my keyboard, and the keyboard tries to catch up.

Thursday, 07 February, 2008  
Blogger Pastorius said...

I second what SE says, Al Fin. You have a great blog which provides invaluable information. Thanks.

Friday, 08 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks, Pastorius.

Saturday, 09 February, 2008  
Blogger Anil said...

Absolutely great blog. Keep up the good work...I learned a lot in this blog than I learned in all my work experience when I was working in the oil industry.

Tuesday, 17 January, 2012  

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