William B. Stoecker: Abiotic.
Decades ago, some maverick researchers, most of them in the old Soviet Union, proposed that the fossil fuel theory is incorrect, and that most oil and gas is of abiotic origin, formed from methane and other carbon compounds trapped in the Earth when it was formed. They suggest that there is no “peak oil,” but that vast amounts of oil and gas are slowly rising from Earth’s mantle and the lower crust, enough to last us for thousands or even millions of years. Dmitri Mendeleev, a chemist, was one of the Soviet proponents of abiotic origin; many of the others were geologists. French chemist Marcellin Berthelot and American astronomer Thomas Gold were among the first Westerners to agree with them. Gold even convinced Swedish authorities to drill a test well in granite with no organic sediments over, under, or in it, and small amounts of oil were found. Oil and gas have been found elsewhere when wells penetrated below all the sediments, but skeptics claim that the oil somehow leaked down from overlying sediments, or that the rock layers had so folded and twisted that the igneous basement rocks were now above some sediments.
In the mud on ocean bottoms, vast amounts of methane are trapped in frozen hydrates or methane clathrates, far exceeding all the gas ever produced or found in proven reserves. Found at depths over 300 meters, the methane molecules, due to cold and pressure, are trapped in a kind of cage of water molecules and mixed with the sediments. The methane trapped in one small area off the coast of the Carolinas could, if we could extract it, supply the US with over fifty years of natural gas…and this is but a small part of the worldwide supply of clathrates. We may or may not be able to develop safe and economical ways of tapping this resource, but the sheer volume of the gas is hard to explain with the biological theory. The carbon alone in the clathrates is estimated at twice the total amount of carbon in all other “fossil fuel” deposits, and these include coal, which is mostly carbon.
Helium gas is found in some gas wells, enough to make it profitable to extract it. This light and inert gas, because it cannot burn, is used in balloons and airships. Being inert and non-reactive it cannot form compounds, including organic compounds. So everyone is forced to admit that helium is abiotic; it was trapped inside the Earth when our planet was formed. So if helium was trapped, why not methane?
Interstellar gas and dust clouds contain a variety of hydrocarbons and other organic compounds, obviously not formed from marine algae, compounds such as methane, formaldehyde, acetylene, ethylene, ketene, methanol, and benzene. In addition, the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan is mostly methane, and no one seriously believes that oceans of liquid water and marine organisms exist on Titan, which is far from the Sun and colder than dry ice. So if methane and other hydrocarbons form in space and can be trapped on Titan, obviously some must have been trapped in the early Earth. In addition, some meteorites, called carbonaceous chondrites, contain kerogen, the supposed residue of marine organisms which is converted into petroleum…but there are no marine organisms in space, largely because there are no oceans. Currently accepted theory holds that the Earth was formed by the accretion of meteors, asteroids, and comets, so, along with the methane, significant amounts of kerogen had to have been trapped in our planet at its birth.
So it is virtually certain that much oil and gas (but probably not all of it) is of abiotic origin, and the amounts remaining are likely to far exceed all that we have tapped so far.