Thursday, August 14, 2008

Afraid of Reality

Raymond J. Learsy asks: Why Does Abiotic Oil Theory Ignite Peak Oil Theorists' Fulminations?? I think the answer is obvious. (Hat tip: Anaconda)

Abiotic Oil, calling into question the overarching theory that the origins of fossil fuel are of biological/organic origin was touched upon in my previous post, "Oil's Big Dirty Secret as Producers Rake in Hundreds of Billions," 04.12.08.

The comments to the post were wide ranging and the Peak Oil missionaries were apoplectic that one dared question their gospel intoning the sanctity of the biological origin of fossil fuels and its rapidly diminishing availability. Clearly the words "Abiotic Oil" stir up heated passions and clear concern among those in the oil patch who would be impacted were the theory to take hold. My post highlighted the issue without offering an opinion on Abiotic Oil Theory's viability. It did however attempt to outline the reasons why the oil industry would happily not have the concept of "Abiotic Oil" taken with any grain of seriousness.


Noah Scales said...

The abiotic origins of Earth's oil supplies is new to me. I started researching it today, in fact.

If acceptance of the theory could lead to better or new oil prospecting (that's successful) then I think the theory is worth debating. Otherwise it's academic what the origins of oil are so long as future reserves of oil is too expensive to extract.

I'm just a curious citizen, but if there's a difference in the future cost of oil extraction given that oil is not biotic in origin, what is the difference?

Anaconda said...

To Noah Scales:
Thanks for your comment.
The answer to your question is yes it does "lead to better or new oil prospecting."

How so?

The "fossil" theory model has led to prospecting where there is no oil (one out of 28 wells hit oil, the rest are dry holes, without seismic imaging); and more important, keeps exploration from going where there is oil, potentially lots of oil.

Also, "fossil" theory has promoted the concept of "Peak" oil, which raises the price of oil, based on expectations of scarcity.

While no one knows the rate of replenishment, Abiotic Oil Theory expresses the idea and reality, that oil is much more plentiful than generally believed.

Should Abiotic Oil be generally accpted in the scientific community, and regrettably, now, it isn't, that would spread to the general public and pressures on prices would be down.

How much of the oil price is due to this idea that oil is finite?

Remember, most oil costs less than $30 a barrel to "lift" at the well head, and some is considerably less (it's estimated Saudi Arabian oil costs about $8 a barrel to "lift," the Saudis won't say how much it really costs).

Oil will always be profitable to produce because it's the most productive substance on Earth, but a reasonable rate of return would drive prices down from the recnet record highs and provide energy for the 21st century.

Acceptance of Abiotic Oil may be one of the most impotant events in the 21st century.

You expressed concern that "so long as future reserves of oil is too expensive to extract" it makes no difference.


ultra-deepwater, deep-drilling is the most expensive oil to extract at about $70 a barrel to "lift," but the technology is progressing and some reports from Petrobas (a major Brazilian oil company that has discovered this ultra-deepwater, deep-drilling oil in potentially huge quanities) has suggested that they could reduce the "lift" cost to about $8 a barrel. See side-bar link under Brazil: Deep Abiotic Oil Discoveries, listed as Tupi: $8.20 per barrel.

(Which gives you the idea that Saudi Arabian oil may, in fact, be much cheaper to lift, than I previously stated.)

This would mean energy costs could be much less than currently the case.

Also, it would reduce the need to produce shale and tar sand oil, which everybody agrees is expensive, around $30 a barrel to "crack" and uses huge amounts of water and energy to create at this time (technolgy could advance in this area, too, reducing the required inputs).

So, all in all, the Abiotic Oil debate is not 'academic' that's why you see the "Peak" oil crowd fight the idea so vigorously, as well as oil geologists and others that have an interest in keeping oil expensive.

BF said...

Excellent work, guys. Great site, too.

I recall reading a couple of years ago that the shallow easy to get at Saudi oil comes in at around $2.50 a barrel. Another report I saw put it as low as $1.65. I think Peter Odell has all the numbers. Do any of you guys know the cost of refining a barrel of crude into gasoline by any chance?

Noah Scales said...

Anaconda, excellent! Thanks for your help. Now, begging your indulgence, and that of other readers...

Oil extraction, refinement, distribution, storage, consumption can be dirty but the flip side for environmentalists is that infrastructure is already in place to use oil as a fuel source, and the road to energy-conservation+oil use remains open.

So I see the potential for long-term oil extraction and use to be positive. Sticking with oil as a fuel supply could relieve pressure on economies to develop new infrastructure while sustaining our current energy consumption levels. Sustaining (and increasing) those levels is undesirable, if we are to conserve other resources affected by our purposes for energy use.

Going through the available online information on peak oil versus abiotic oil theory, I've come up with a few points that I want to check out with readers here:

* Thomas Gold is not a legitimate developer or representative of abiotic theory.

* Russian scientific literature on abiotic theory is extensive and the mainstream of Russian geologists accept the theory of oil's abiotic origins.

Contrasting two articles, one on (Dismissal of the Claims of a Biological Connection for Natural Petroleum.), and another on energybulletin, The “Abiotic Oil” Controversy (Heinbergs), I see the reason for Heinberg's suggestion that addressing abiotic/biotic oil controversies requires its own book.

Meanwhile, the article about Petrobras seems to be saying that the lift cost for the Brazilians is currently $8/barrel. Can you give me an idea of what other costs must be figured into the total for using oil from a deep-water rig? I imagine there's the costs of establishing the rigs, insurance against rig destruction by weather, getting it onshore, increasing its quality (aren't there different grades of crude, light-sweet, ...?), and I don't know what else. Is the total cost of deep-water drilling still prohibitive? What would be nice to see is a pie-chart that broke down the source of costs for different types of wells in different places lifting different grades of oil.

Don't bore yourself answering more than you like, basically I'm just going for any hidden costs that prohibit off-shore exploration and oil extraction, after reading an article that shocked me with how cheap lift costs could be.

Quantum_Flux said...

I'm no oil guy, but my gut feeling is that a lot of those costs concerning staffing, shipping, refining, maintenance, and operations are already factored into gulf shore drilling.

I'll also bet that boring deeper and through harder rock would be considerably more expensive (requiring R&D and/or some degree of espionage), but that deep oceanic drilling success rates would be much higher and there would be greater net oil production if done properly....but let's see if Anaconda and Oil_Is_Mastery have some better info than that in the form of charts/graphs.

BF said...

Encouraging sign:

Russia and Exxon Mobil; Peak Oil vs. Abiotic Oil Theories

Anaconda said...

Response to Noah Scales:

You wanted my opinion regarding Thomas Gold.

"Thomas Gold is not a legitimate developer or representative of abiotic theory."

Thomas Gold was a world renown physicist, who "went on a limb" several times during his career with unique or novel theories in areas of astro-physics.

He was one of the few Western physicists able to read Russian.

In my opinion it is likely he became aware of the Modern Russian-Ukrainian Theory of Abiotic Petroleum.

(Caveat: One can't read the mind of an individual, so I'm basing my opinion on circustantial evidence, so I could be wrong.)

I think Gold became aware of Abiotic Oil theory and realized its significance, not only as a scientific question, but as a economic and political issue as well.

Gold researched it from the Russian sources that were almost unknown in the West when he started his research in the early '70s. Gold became convinced of Abiotic Oil's validity.

Gold wanted to popularize the theory in the West because of its significance, scientifically, econocally, and politically.

So-called "biomarkers" were the "ace" for "fossil" theory. So he wanted to explain the presence of "biomarkers" in oil. His solution was the "Deep hot biophere" theory of thermophiles, which would explain so-called "biomarkers presence in oil as a result of thermophiles digesting methane and excreting oil.

An alternative senario is that he wanted to publicize Abiotic Theory in the West, but could only do so if he could make an original contribution to Abiotic Theory. So he contrived his "Deep hot biophere" to put his stamp on it.

Gold had enough renown in scientific circles from past achievements to have his work taken seriously.

On Gold's name and reputation did Sweden and private investors put up the money for the Siljan Ring project. His name was "Gold."

J.F. Kenney, who is the leading Abiotic Oil geologist in the United States worked on the Siljan Ring project with Gold, even though he probably knew Gold's theory was most likely a direct derivative of the Russian theory. But Gold had the scientific clout to get the "green light" money for the project. (Later, Kenney denounced Gold for plagarism.)

Was Gold guilty of plagarism? As I said above, it's hard to know for sure, but the evidence suggests Gold failed to give proper credit to the Russians as provenance of his theory.

Why did Gold do it?

I believe Gold recognized that "proving" or disseminating the Abiotic Theory and gaining wide acceptance of the theory was on the same level of importance as Galileo proving the Earth rotates around the sun.

The economic and political ramifications can be argued are even more 'impactful' than Galileo's proof.

My thinking is that Gold was willing to use his scientific clout to "make the truth known" even if subsequently his reputation was tarnished.

That's a measure of how important Gold thought it was to disseminate the theory and a measure of how convinced he was of its reality.

Gold was willing to sacrfice his reputation in the effort to get Abiotic Oil scientifically and popularly accepted.

And Gold's book, in deed, did popularize the theory in the West to the greatest extent it has ever been. Only his death of old age stopped his tireless advocacy for the theory -- Gold was a very effective advocate.

Gold was a scientific 'showman' and he used his abilities to that end with Abiotic Oil.

It was his last hurrah, he probably felt, so he didn't have anything to lose, and it was the greatest contribution he could make to science at that point in time in the twilight of his long storried career.

(My apology to his family, if I'm wrong.)

If I'm right, was Gold wrong.

It's always problemmatic when you decide the "ends justify the means."

But without doubt Gold did give a tremendous boost to Abiotic Oil in the West.

It might be fairer to call Gold a 'popularizer', rather than a "developer" of the theory.

But I doubt Gold could have had the same inpact if he had said he was merely carrying somebody elses water.

After all, that was Gold's reputation: Postulating 'outlier' scientific theories, then proving them, sometimes to his colleague's chagrin.

When Abiotic Oil is generally accepted, and it is a "when" and not an "if," Thomas Gold will be remembered as a significant contributor.