Abiotic Oil

This theory is that there is crude oil coming from geological processes taking place in the earths crust. It’s a process in which carbon and hydrogen form methane. The abiotic oil hydrocarbons formed are under incredible pressure. They then will move toward lower pressure areas if possible. This is generally toward the surface through cracks, or fissures, in the basement granite of the crust. Such breaks in the crust are thought to result from meteor impacts. They build up in areas where the layer of rock above them is non porous, in the same manner proposed for fossil fuel formation of oil.

Russian test drilling in areas of known impact sites has been very productive. Application of the abiotic oil theory has helped Russia to not only meet its own energy needs but also become one of the world’s largest exporters of petroleum.

Self Replenishing Oil Wells

If correct, the abiotic oil theory means that petroleum sources are probably not as limited as currently thought and may indeed be in plentiful supply. It is also likely that since removing the oil in reservoirs reduces the pressure in that area, further seepage of oil from the mantle to that part of the crust is more likely. The equilibrium law of chemical reactions also predicts that this removal of petroleum from close to the mantle will encourage further production.

While is is not known what speed this oil production is occurring at in the mantle of the planet, it is possible that the rate is high which could account for some oil wells refilling to some degree several years after being capped and abandoned.

One outstanding example of this is the underwater drilling site called Eugene Island in the Gulf of Mexico. Production from this site dropped off from 3200 tonnes per day in 1989 to 2400 tonnes per day in 1992 as predicted by standard models, but then in 1996 the amount of oil being recovered from the deposit surged to 4800 tonnes per day, instigating a reassessment of the size of this oil body. Since that time production has again slowly diminished.

Life In The Crust Of The Earth

One major point that detractors of this theory make is that oil contains bio-markers, which are the remains of dead organisms such as bacteria and diatoms. Thermophilic, or heat loving, bacteria have been found living in rocks far down in the Earth’s crust, close to the molten mantle. It is not difficult to envisage these bacteria living anaerobically on a ready supply of high energy hydrocarbons seeping continually upward from hot rock below. This could certainly result in organic material being present in oil that formed abiotically, though this is speculation.

Hydrocarbons In Space

Hydrocarbons have been proven to exist elsewhere in the solar system. Titan moon, which orbits Saturn, is saturated with them. Its atmosphere, surface liquid and and even sand dunes are made from hydrocarbons. While the moon is considerably smaller than Earth it is estimated to possess many thousands of times the oil reserves of Earth on the surface alone. NASA has found no evidence of past or present life on this moon so it can only be assumed that these hydrocarbons were generated by a means other than the fossilization of organic remains.

A New Theory Is Needed

There are detractors for both the biotic oil theory and the fossil theory, and both make valid arguments. It is most likely that oil is produced by both mechanisms and also possibly as a waste product of deep living bacteria. However, no one theory can account for all the phenomena associated with oil finds. There are deposits of oil that seem to support both the abiotic oil and the fossil oil theories.

Energy Use, Oil and Plastics

Regardless of whether oil is a renewable resource or not, we still need to be very careful about how we use it. The economic implications of oil being a renewable resource are massive and generally provide a more positive outlook for the world in the short term.

This does not change the facts that our current excessive production of Carbon Dioxide needs to be addressed. Clearly there is still a pressing need for the large scale implementation and ongoing development of clean energy such as solar power and wind power.

If the abiotic oil theory holds true then only the immediate energy crisis is resolved. The need for serious immediate action on greenhouse emissions still stands as the greatest challenge of the 21st century.