The Future of Oil and Gas 

The Future of Oil and Gas

Here is something that interests me, but about which I certainly don't have any expertise. Are the reserves of oil and gas in the world as limited as we have sometimes been told? Are they truly fossil fuels, derived from living organisms on the planet's surface, or do they come from a different carbon source--ultimately, from deeper below the surface?

Reading a few web sites: total "proved" reserves in the world are greater than in 1980. Conventional reserves can be stated with greater confidence, the more drilling has occurred in an area. For legal reasons, the U.S. has been drilled more than any other country or region. Canada has also been extensively drilled. Many parts of the world, even the Middle East, have been drilled very little by comparison.

Unconventional sources, even working on the fossil fuels theory, are a great unknown. Generally speaking, the cost of recovery is prohibitive given today's technology, but that can change. Extraction from the Alberta oil sands is a growing business.

There is some evidence of mature oil and gas fields that are not "running out" in the time frame that was expected earlier. Instead oil and gas fields are somehow being "recharged."

From a Greenpeace site "A Guide to Oil Reserves and Resources":

"This alternative view of oil's origin and habitats was already clearly expressed over 40 years ago by the then Senior Petroleum Geologist for the Ministry of Geology of the USSR, Academician Professor V Porfiryev, viz.'the overwhelming preponderance of geological evidence compels the conclusion that crude oil and natural gas have no intrinsic connection with biological matter originating near the surface of the earth. They are primordial material which has been erupted from great depth.' Under this alternative theory of the occurrence of hydrocarbons (which remains largely unaccepted in the 'west'), the supposed limits both of quantity and of habitat of oil and gas disappear. The world's oil resources would, in essence, be unlimited in relation to any conceivable evolution of demand."

This sounds like it is all crackpot Soviet science, like resisting Darwinian evolution.

But: Thomas Gold, professor emeritus of astrophysics at Princeton, has kept this theory alive in the West. I forget how I first came across Gold's ideas, but I was somehow browsing in a science magazine in the 1970s. Gold's major book on these issues is much more recent: The Deep Hot Biosphere.

Also for Gold's own thoughts, see:

The fossil theory is also called a biogenic theory of the origins of hydrocarbons; the alternative is abiogenic. Although Gold admits there is organic matter derived from living organisms in oil and gas, he says it comes from bacteria deep underground, and the all-important carbon is simply part of the earth itself. There are now various pieces of evidence supporting Gold's theories, including the presence of oil and gas at great depths, and the finding of bacteria that flourish with no oxygen, also at great depths.

Oil and gas well depths today range from a few hundred feet to over 20,000 feet--say 5 miles, or 8 km. Drilling can be taken to lower depths all the time. Microbes may be common at depths of 5-10 kilometres. On the other hand, the deeper oil is found, the fewer biological traces are found--supporting the view that oil and gas in themselves have a deep non-biological source.

How deep? Gold says hydrocarbons come towards the surface from depths between 150 and 300 km. He says is the best explanation for many phenomena--including the deposits of metal ores. Why wouldn't metals be scattered in small particles, more or less consistently, throughout the earth's crust? Many people agree that it must have been gathered by a liquid, somehow attracting one kind of ore and then depositing it. Gold is convinced liquid hydrocarbons (not water) are the best candidate for this liquid.

I think there has also been a change in my lifetime in the understanding of where diamonds come from. I seem to recall being taught that they, too,had a fossil origin. In fact they were coal, that had been subjected to more heat and pressure, over a longer period of time. It now seems to be taken for granted that the heat and pressure in question can only occur deep below the surface; that the source of carbon is deeper still; and that the total supply of diamonds available to humans is increasing, not decreasing--probably because the deep reserves have barely been tapped.

Imagine, as the saying goes. Imagine a world in which there is really no practical limit to supplies of oil and gas. Some present-day suppliers of these fuels (OPEC?) may be out of business. Other places, say with asteroid craters or some other features that give access to unusually deep formations, may become centers of oil wealth.

Of course, there are at least two reasons that we have been taught to think it is evil to think about unlimited supplies of [so-called] fossil fuels.

One is that it is simply wrong to use any resource wastefully--it is disgusting, we act worse than pigs, the fumes and emissions must be harming us somehow, etc. Gold likes to point out that methane gas is a relatively clean fossil fuel, and the widespread availability of this fuel will be good news.

The other, somewhat more up to date reason for concern, is global warming. Here again, though,I question the experts without being one myself. That's a story for another day.

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Comment Sorry for not having read your certainly quite overthought stuff, are you worried? Me I call that America's third world aid politics. Do you have television? Then you should know about what I am talking about, unless you have your very own program preference. You're a writer and probably a very good one!

Sat Jul 1, 2006 4:14 pm MST by barastanda

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