Robert Langreth: Endless Oil?
Radical [sic] Russian researchers say we are looking for oil in all the wrong places.The New Oil Paradigm No One Is Talking About.
Everybody [sic] knows [sic] 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 [sic] 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 [sic] 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.
Offshore production is increasing, and the industry may soon be asked to reconsider its basic assumptions about oil. Over the past few decades, a number of industry experts and geologists have conducted research suggesting that the origin of hydrocarbons may be abiogenic, not organic. Stated simply, the abiogenic oil theory posits that oil is not formed from plants and animals compressed for millions of years in sediment rock. Instead, oil is a primordial substance created before the formation of Earth, and found deep underground.
The abiogenic theory raises questions about both "peak oil" and the conventional wisdom that petroleum is a "fossil fuel." The theory is not widely discussed in the West, though it has proponents dating back more than a century.
Deepwater wells are teeming with abiogenic potential. As early as 1995, a New York Times article quoted Dr. K. K. Bissada, a Texaco geochemist: "I think we pump oil out much faster than oil can come in. ... But from a long-term perspective, I believe that hydrocarbons are coming in from great depths and are filling the newer reservoirs at shallower depths.''