There are two basic theories for the origin of crude oil: biotic and abiotic.

The origin of petroleum or natural gas may seem like a strange debate to have but determining whether this fuel is a fossil fuel or not is important.

If these fuels are truly fossil fuels, then they are limited in supply and alternative energy resources would need to be created at some point.

If they are not fossil fuels and are created through some form of abiogenesis – a natural process from non-living matter – then the need to develop alternative fuels is diminished.

The biotic theory is that oil and gas drilled out of the earth come from the remains of plants and animals trapped underground millions of years ago.  These “fossil fuels” took aeons to form and we are using them up far faster than they can be replenished.

This fossil fuel theory is, however, just that – a theory. There are many features of the fossil-origin theory which still apparently puzzle some scientists.  So, what if the whole theory is wrong?

The abiotic theory is an opposing view that has substantial evidence to back it up.  This theory goes back centuries and includes as its prominent champions Dimitri Mendeleev, best known for inventing the periodic table.

Abiotic Oil Theory

While the chemistry is quite complex, environmental chemist Tristan Coleman wrote, the principle behind the abiotic oil idea is actually quite simple.

Carbon present in the magma beneath the Earth’s crust reacts with hydrogen to form methane and other hydrocarbons, with many chemically complex intermediate stages. Certain mineral rocks such as granite and other silicon-based rocks act as non-depleting catalysts to speed up the process.

Experiments have shown that under extreme conditions of heat and pressure, it is possible to convert iron oxide, calcium carbonate and water into methane as well as hydrocarbons containing up to ten carbon atoms. Such experiments have been undertaken last century by Russian scientists as well as more recently in the US, and even more recently in Sweden.

The conditions in the Earth’s mantle would be sufficient for these small hydrocarbons to polymerise into the longer chain molecules found in crude oil, for example. Moreover, the limited oxygen present in the Earth’s magma prevents the hydrocarbons from burning up despite the intense heat and pressure.

The hydrocarbons of abiotic origin then migrate out of the mantle into the crust until they escape to the surface or are trapped by impermeable strata, forming petroleum reservoirs.

Sketch depicting the migration of abiotic oil upwards from the mantle into reservoirs contained by non-porous rock.
Source: The Atlas Report

Evidence Supporting Abiotic Theory

Some people have been deeply interested in oil and its origins but their advocacy of abiotic theory has many dismissing them as heretics, frauds or idealists. They hold that oil can be derived from hydrocarbons that existed aeons ago in massive pools deep within the earth’s core. That source of hydrocarbons seeps up through the earth’s layers and slowly replenishes oil sources. In other words, it turns the fossil fuel paradigm upside down.

Russian and Ukrainian Geologists

A 1996 paper by Dr. J. F. Kenney titled ‘Special Edition on The Future of Petroleum’ points out how predictions made that the human race was imminently going to run out of available petroleum “have depended fundamentally upon an archaic hypothesis from the 18th century that petroleum somehow (miraculously) evolved from biological detritus, and was accordingly limited in abundance.”

The hypothesis that petroleum originated from biological matter (fossils) “has been replaced during the past forty years by the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of abyssal, abiotic petroleum origins which has established that petroleum is a primordial material erupted from great depth,” Kenney wrote.

In his paper, Kennedy quoted Professor Vladilen A. Krayushkin, a strong proponent of abiotic theory and Chairman of the Department of Petroleum Exploration at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, as saying:

The eleven major and one giant oil and gas fields here described have been discovered in a region which had, forty years ago, been condemned as possessing no potential for petroleum production. The exploration for these fields was conducted entirely according to the perspective of the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of abyssal, abiotic petroleum origins.

The drilling which resulted in these discoveries was extended purposely deep into the crystalline basement rock, and it is in that basement where the greatest part of the reserves exist. These reserves amount to at least 8,200 [million] metric tons of recoverable oil and 100 [billion] cubic meters of recoverable gas, and are thereby comparable to those of the North Slope of Alaska. It is conservatively estimated that, when developed, these fields will provide approximately thirty per cent of the energy needs of the industrial nation of Ukraine.

Professor Vladilen A. Krayushkin, Chairman of the Department of Petroleum Exploration, Institute of Geological Sciences, Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Kiev, and leader of the project for the exploration of the northern flank of the Dni eper-Donets Basin, at the VII-th International Symposium on the Observation of the Continental Crust Through Drilling, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1994.

Vladimir Kutcherov is a Swedish-based Russian geologist and a professor at the Division of Energy Technology at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.  In 2009 he was a co-author of a paper published in the journal Nature Geosciences.

The idea that oil comes from fossils “is a myth … we need to change this myth,” Kutcherov said. “All kinds of rocks could have oil and gas deposits.”

Alexander Kitchka of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences estimated that 60% of the content of all oil is abiotic in origin. He said companies should drill deeper to find it.

Kitchka said 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.

Eugene Island

On Eugene Island, Louisiana, in 1995, it was reported that the oil fields were – perplexingly – refilling themselves after being depleted. The findings of Dr. Jean K. Whelan, part of a US Department of Energy exploration program, seem to support the abiotic theory to explain this. She found that the oil likely came from great depths, as abiotic proponents say.

In 1999, The Wall Street Journal reported:

Production at the oil field, deep in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, was supposed to have declined years ago. And for a while, it behaved like any normal field: Following its 1973 discovery, Eugene Island 330’s output peaked at about 15,000 barrels a day. By 1989, production had slowed to about 4,000 barrels a day.

Then suddenly – some say almost inexplicably – Eugene Island’s fortunes reversed. The field, operated by PennzEnergy Co., is now producing 13,000 barrels a day, and probable reserves have rocketed to more than 400 million barrels from 60 million. 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.

The Great Oil Conspiracy

The late Cornell University astronomer Thomas Gold championed the abiotic theory. 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.

He believed that the hydrocarbons we use come from chemical stocks that were incorporated into the Earth at its creation. Since the oil crisis of the 1970s, Gold said that the Earth is hugely well endowed with these hydrocarbons – hundreds of times more so than most geologists, oil companies or OPEC leaders believe. The general belief in scarcity that drives up gas prices and causes fears of inflation, Gold argued, is a mirage that has served vested interests among oil producers for decades.

Further reading:

In 2012, author and writer Jerome Corsi published a book titled ‘The Great Oil Conspiracy: How the U.S. Government Hid the Nazi Discovery of Abiotic Oil from the American’.

In the book, he explained that the Nazis knew that oil is abiotic and that they had been making synthetic oil out of coal. They developed what’s known as the Fischer-Tropsch Process, equations which explained that the earth makes oil under intense pressure and heat deep within the earth on an ongoing basis, even today.

In an interview with Crosstalk America shortly after the release of his book, Corsi said that the Fischer-Tropsch equations explained that the earth at deep levels forms oil naturally. “It’s nonsense to think that oil is fossil fuel,” he said.

Crosstalk America: The Great Oil Conspiracy (audio), 28 September 2012 (53 mins)

In the video above, Corsi explained that the biotic (fossil fuel) theory began by claiming that oil originated from dinosaur matter.  Then its advocates moved on to claim that oil came from matter from ancient forests. “Once that theory began to be abandoned, people said: ‘Oh, it’s plankton and other deeper biological material’ … this whole idea there’s kerogen, which is a pre-oil gummy-like substance that is in sedimentary rock that’s forming the oil, is nonsense.  It’s not the way chemistry works,” he said.

The Nazis realised that under intense pressure and heat, conditions which are in the mantle of the Earth, minerals that contain hydrogen and minerals that contain carbon in the presence of catalysts, such as iron oxide, will release hydrogen and carbon.  This will lead to the formation of hydrocarbon molecular chains that develop into the products we know as crude oil or natural gas.

“This is an ongoing process. It goes on all the time. It’s natural to the earth. And, in fact, our solar system abundantly produces various forms of hydrocarbons,” he said.

The “Peak Oil” theory is also nonsense, Corsi said. This theory started, Corsi said, when a Shell Oil chemist “took a napkin and drew a bell curve, a Hubbert’s curve, and said, basically, that we have a lot of oil, then we peak in the use of oil, then it runs out. But those predictions have never come true.”  Note that Corsi said this in 2012.  Also note that in 2020, AP News spuriously labelled him a “conspiracy theorist.”

Peak Oil, a hypothetical point when global oil production maximises and enters an irreversible decline, has been the holy grail of resource economics for decades.

According to Britannica, the first person to advance the Peak Oil theory publicly was Marion King Hubbert, an American geoscientist who worked as a researcher for the Shell Oil Company from 1943 to 1964 and taught geophysics at Stanford University and other institutions. In 1956, Hubbert presented a paper in which he depicted US petroleum production on a bell curve which predicted production peaking between 1965 and 1975 and then declining.

Forbes admitted in an article last year that there are hundreds of faulty predictions of Peak Oil. The fault in all these forecasts, Forbes noted, is a failure to recognise oil production as inherently political. Adding that “beliefs and faith in this prophecy drive policy much more than any detached analysis.”

It doesn’t sound too dissimilar to anthropogenic global warming which, using pseudoscience coupled with an ideology, has predicted “tipping points” for decades  In fact, Forbes linked Peak Oil directly to the much-touted “decarbonisation” agenda:

If Peak oil is already here, and we have yet not met our decarbonisation goals, then the implications for energy and the economy would be far-reaching.

If Peak oil is to arrive in the near future, then our current decarbonisation strategies, while not ideal, may be sufficient to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement by 2050 with a temperature increase well below 2oC in comparison to pre-industrial levels.

If Peak Oil is far off, decarbonisation and environmental strategies face tremendous obstacles from the oil market and political pressure from the OPEC+ cartel. Recognition that oil is abundant changes the global oil market as well as the much-needed transition to clean energy.

Peak Oil: The Perennial Prophecy That Went Wrong, Forbes, 30 November 2022

Sources and further resources:

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