Friday, September 11, 2009

Oil and gas forever?

This is potentially ground-breaking news.

Up until recently in the West it was almost universally believed that oil was only of biological origin. That is, all oil reserves were the product of dead plant matter laid down long ago transformed by the heat and pressures found deep down within the earth.

An essential corollary of the idea that oil was of fossil origin was the acknowledgement that there was a fixed amount of it and that we would inevitably use all available reserves sooner or later.

Now, I'm not so much interested in the interminable "peak oil" debate (and I say interminable because it has in fact been going on since soon after oil was discovered in the 19th Century).

But leaving aside the fact that the usual assumption of peak oil theorists, (by which they derive their estimates of when demand will exceed supply), that there was initially some two trillion barrels of fossil oil available is wrong, with most geologists apparently of the opinion now that the figure was more like ten trillion, this research potentially changes everything.

But while it is one thing to show in the laboratory that it is possible for hydrocarbons to be generated within the Earth's mantle from non-biologically derived organic compounds, it is another entirely to be able to show that it does happen.

But that tense usage points to one of the exciting possibilities here, and that is that maybe oil and gas is being created right now deep within the Earth from naturally occuring chemical processes.

So an idea that in the West, to be kind, has really been the preserve of those on the fringe, at best, of scientific credibility, that is, the abiogenic theory of oil production, has suddenly been given credence in not just a reputable scientific journal, but one of the two most prestigious in the world - Nature.

Clearly a lot of oil is biological in origin, but maybe not all and maybe not even most!

Another possibility here therefore is that there is even more oil available than we thought possible and that it may be more widespread than we thought.

It is certainly one of the points made by Vladimir Kutcherov, Professor at the KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) Department of Energy Technology in Stockholm.

"With the help of our research we even know where oil could be found in Sweden!"

Only time will tell.

The press release from KTH is here - Easier to find oil

The abstract of the paper:

Methane-derived hydrocarbons produced under upper-mantle conditions

By Anton Kolesnikov et al.

There is widespread evidence that petroleum originates from biological processes1, 2, 3. Whether hydrocarbons can also be produced from abiogenic precursor molecules under the high-pressure, high-temperature conditions characteristic of the upper mantle remains an open question. It has been proposed that hydrocarbons generated in the upper mantle could be transported through deep faults to shallower regions in the Earth's crust, and contribute to petroleum reserves4, 5. Here we use in situ Raman spectroscopy in laser-heated diamond anvil cells to monitor the chemical reactivity of methane and ethane under upper-mantle conditions. We show that when methane is exposed to pressures higher than 2 GPa, and to temperatures in the range of 1,000-1,500 K, it partially reacts to form saturated hydrocarbons containing 2-4 carbons (ethane, propane and butane) and molecular hydrogen and graphite. Conversely, exposure of ethane to similar conditions results in the production of methane, suggesting that the synthesis of saturated hydrocarbons is reversible. Our results support the suggestion that hydrocarbons heavier than methane can be produced by abiogenic processes in the upper mantle.

Nature Geoscience 2, 566 - 570 (2009), 26 July 2009

Dr John Ray of the Greenie Watch blog comments: "The abiotic oil theory gets a boost. It has long been supported in Russia and the Ukraine -- and one notes the Russian connections of the authors below -- but has had little support in the West. Publication in a major Western journal would however seem to mark a turning point. As I have been pointing out in my sidebar, the claim that oil is a fossil fuel has long been a patent absurdity. I wonder if any of the peak-oilers will ever apologize for their foolish certainty? Unlikely.

"KTH is an abbreviation of Swedish words meaning "Royal Institute of Technology". It is one of Sweden's largest and oldest universities."

Hmm, again time will tell if his confidence is well placed.

CCNet's Benny Peiser, (who as this endorsement from the late Arthur C Clarke - CCNet is good clean fun. I hope everyone appreciates the tremendous job you are doing.”), adds: "If the researchers' key claim were to be verified, it would almost certainly overturn [much] of the entire energy scare and the scientific paradigm upon which it has been based for much of the last 100 years or so. Only time - and deep drilling - will tell."

Posted via email from Garth's posterous


Observer said...

This abiogenic nonsense sounds as dumb as global warming theory.

Garth Godsman said...

And you're certainly not alone in thinking that mate! Plenty of people - most - would agree with you.

As I said, only time will tell. Would be nice if it was true, but....