Does the Earth re-fuel itself?

May 03, 2005 02:00 AM

by Ciaran Ryan

Every 10-year-old knows that oil comes from the decomposed remains of dinosaurs, a theory first floated by Russian scholar Mikhailo Lomonosov in 1757.
According to this theory, rock oil forms over millions of years from the action of heat and pressure on animal remains buried in sediment. The so-called "fossil fuel" theory remained largely unchallenged for 200 years until Russian academics, led by Nikolai Kudryavtsev, suggested that hydrocarbons (from which oil derives) are generated deep within the Earth from inorganic materials.

The notion that petroleum is abiotic (not related to living organisms) in origin has been accepted as scientific fact in the former Soviet Union for 50 years, yet Western science clings to the contradictory fossil fuel theory.
This is no idle academic debate.
If the Russians are right, oil regenerates deep within the Earth and there is no looming fuel shortage.
If the fossil fuel theorists are right, then oil is a finite commodity and the pumps will run dry within a few decades. This being the case, the price of just about everything will shoot up.

Oil geologist Colin Campbell is one of the foremost proponents of the "peak oil" theory that says roughly half of all known reserves have been consumed, and new discoveries are insufficient to meet the planet's future needs. If he's right, the current oil price of $ 50 a barrel is just a way-stop en route to much higher fuel prices. Campbell posits a bleak future where oil shortages lead to "war, starvation, economic recession, possibly even the extinction of homo sapiens".
According to Campbell, the size of oil reserves is virtually a state secret in many countries, and some oil producers previously inflated their reserves to wring higher production quotas from OPEC, which are based partly on reported reserves. He says the world has so far produced 944 bn barrels, with "realistic reserves" estimated at 853 bn barrels, substantially lower than the 1,278 bn estimated by Oil & Gas Journal.

Allowing for a further 142 bn barrels still to be discovered, Campbell says peak oil will occur next year. This is disputed by the oil companies and the world's leading producer nations as well as the US Geological Survey, which forecasts peak production in about 2035. World oil production is currently running at 83 mm bpd, and most oil producing countries report declining production (except West African producers).
In a recent article, Campbell says the world has used about 49 % of its conventional oil endowment, and it's all downhill from here.
"We can say, in other words, that the world has reached the end of the First Half of the Age of Oil, which lasted 150 years since the first wells were dripped in Pennsylvania and on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Now, the Second Half of the Age of Oil dawns. It will be marked by the decline of oil production, and all that depends on it. The transition is likely to be a time of great tension and difficulty, particularly in respect to financial capital."

However, several cracks have started to appear in the fossil fuel (and hence, the peak oil) theory: some oil fields seem to be re-filling almost as fast as they are being drained. The Wall Street Journal reported the case of Eugene Island 330, an oil field in the Gulf of Mexico, which hit peak production of 15,000 bpd, slowing to 4,000 a day by 1989.
"Then suddenly -- some say almost inexplicably -- Eugene Island's fortunes reversed. The field... is now producing 13,000 bpd, and probable reserves have rocketed to more than 400 mm barrels from 60 mm. Stranger still, scientists studying the field say the crude coming out of the pipe is of a geological age quite different from the oil that gushed 10 years ago."

Scientists observing the phenomenon say the oil field was being topped up from below, through a complex system of fissures and geological faults. According to Dave McGowan of the Centre for an Informed America, this is not news to Russian and Ukrainian scientists, who have published hundreds of academic papers on the abiotic origins of oil.
Western scientists have attempted to leap the evidentiary gulf by claiming that oil can be both organic and abiotic in origin, but not according to J.F. Kenney, an American who studied with the Russians and replicated in a laboratory the chemical processes occurring within the Earth's upper mantle.

Kenney says there are more than 80 oil and gas fields in the Caspian district alone, which were explored and developed using the abiotic oil theory. This supposedly helped Russia overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's largest producer of crude oil in 2004. Though evidence is hard to come by, Russian oil producers have reportedly struck oil at extreme depths, as much 40,000 feet below the Earth's surface. Western oil companies limit their exploration to a depth of six miles.
According to the abiotic theory, oil is present in abundance in the rocks below the Earth's surface, one just has to drill deep enough.

Some political commentators have invoked Campbell's hypothesis in an effort to explain the US foreign policy agenda in the Middle East and Venezuela, one of the world's leading oil producers. Once largely self-sufficient in oil, US production peaked in about 1970 and has been increasingly reliant on imports since then. Though the US denies the war in Iraq is about oil, the invasion script called for a quick victory, a friendly reception from Iraqis and a deluge of Iraqi oil on the world market. The Iraqi resistance blighted all of these prognostications.
McGowan imputes sinister motives to the oil companies' denial of the abiotic origins of oil: the creation of an artificial scarcity intended to boost prices and profits.

Source: Sunday Times
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