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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Saturday July 19 2008

On the basis of no solid knowledge whatsoever, I’ve always been unpersuaded by the claim that oil is a “fossil” fuel, that is, created by the plants of the past.  I don’t know why, but it just seems too abundant, and too deep in the earth, to be done by mere plants.  And why would such oil not contain other and more interesting fossils floating about in it, like ancient insects and suchlike?  Oil, on the basis of what I’ve heard of it, just doesn’t feel like a vegetable thing.  And of course the notion that it might not be made by plants has been around for along time.

I arrived at my uneducated opinion before the internet even existed, for the likes of me, but now I am able to learn more about this controversy.  One of the problems is that many of the scientists arguing what I now ignorantly believe to be the truth of the matter were appointed by Stalin, as this article explains.

Towards the end, it summarises the situation as follows:

To recapitulate, Stalin’s team of scientists and engineers found that oil is not a ‘fossil fuel’ but is a natural product of planet earth - the high-temperature, high-pressure continuous reaction between calcium carbonate and iron oxide - two of the most abundant compounds making up the earth’s crust. This continuous reaction occurs at a depth of approximately 100 km at a pressure of approximately 50,000 atmospheres (5 GPa) and a temperature of approximately 1500°C, and will continue more or less until the ‘death’ of planet earth in millions of years’ time. The high pressure, as well as centrifugal acceleration from the earth’s rotation, causes oil to continuously seep up along fissures in the earth’s crust into subterranean caverns, which we call oil fields. Oil is still being produced in great abundance, and is a sustainable resource - by the same definition that makes geothermal energy a sustainable resource. All we have to do is develop better geotechnical science to predict where it is and learn how to drill down deep enough to get to it. So far, the Russians have drilled to more than 13 km and found oil. In contrast, the deepest any Western oil company has drilled is around 4.5 km.

The problem with this argument is that it is still heavily politicised.  The idea that oil is running out instead of something that will last for ever is not something that the enviros want to be told, hence something that appeals to anti-enviros.  And believing that oil will last for ever predisposes you to at least hope that the carbon dioxide that results, for ever,, will do no environmental damage.  Yet the explanation for why this theory has been ignored is that the evil oil companies want you to ignore it, to keep the price of oil up, which is also an enviro-type opinion.  So even if you are anti-enviro, you still have a big reason to not like this stuff.

Personally I don’t think you need oil companies to explain if the fossil fuel orthodoxy is bad science.  All it takes to get bad science is bad science.

I would just like to know if this alternative non-bio theory is true.

This controversy is linked to here, but I only twigged it was there by reading this.  By the way, DK seems to be on fucking good form at the moment.

You might find some relevant links here:

http://kk.org/ct2/2008/06/the-unclear-origins-of-oil.php

Posted by Alan Little on 23 July 2008

Very interesting.  Thank you.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 24 July 2008

As a Molecular biologist, specializing in microbial ecology at the moment, I must disagree on the fact that oil is being created at high rates under the Earth’s crust. The reactions needed to yield oil cannot be sustained at rates high enough to support the extraction rates we carry at the moment. On the other hand side, Temperatures and pressures like these cited would very likely lead to oxidation of the compounds cited (if there’s carbonate, there’s oxygen, and therefore oxidation). 
Although I agree absolutely that bacteria are responsible for the formation of oil. And they most probably did to create the oil that we have nowadays.
It is very possible that huge amounts of vegetal tissues could accumulate in places such as peat bogs or swamps. These materials dont necessarily need to be covered immediately by sediments and then treated by bacteria, it can follow a slow process down-to-top that happens in our times in almost every lake and swamp in the world, where reduced materials (like oil or methane) accumulate in the lower layers of the bottom of the lake. I don’t absolutely discard the theory, but I wouldn’t say oil is being produced underground inorganically in enough amounts for good.

Posted by Javier Hermosa on 25 July 2008

After listening to the interview with Dr Kenney and reading the paper at the PNAS, the theory starts getting more sense… Very interesting

Posted by Javier Hermosa on 25 July 2008
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