While conventional science has believed since the mid 1700′s that oil is the byproduct of dead dinosaurs, ferns and trees being processed underground for millions of years and is therefore being depleted on a daily basis, a contradictory theory by Dr. Thomas Gold, the founder, and for over 20 years, the director of the Cornell Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, originally presented in 1980 and subsequently published in his book, The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels in 1999, suggests the earth is, in essence, a huge oil factory, manufacturing oil deep below the surface and delivering it, through naturally occurring faults, up into oil reservoirs close enough to the surface for us to tap into and extract.
Dr. Gold’s theory suggests that, contrary to current accepted beliefs, the earth has a vast resource of oil deep in the earth, perhaps 100 times what is generally believed to exist and that these resources will continue to migrate upward to accessible levels while being replaced at the source by yet more oil making it a renewable resource.
No stranger to controversy, Dr. Gold made a career out of regularly doing what few scientists ever have the strength of character to do, staking their career on ideas that radically challenge the methods and assumptions of an entire scientific discipline. He was widely known as a “maverick” and a “world-class contrarian”. What makes his theory credible is that Gold was right at least as often as he was wrong.
In 1946 as a graduate student in astrophysics at Cambridge University, Gold conducted experiments which he claimed supported his theory that it was the ear and not the brain that discriminated between different musical notes, a theory that contradicted current scientific understanding. It wasn’t until 30 years later, when scientific instrumentation had sufficiently advanced to confirm his findings, that he was proven right.
In 1955, Gold was one of the commanding lunar researchers of the era. He suggested that the moon’s surface was covered with a fine powder, a conclusion that was opposed by many of his peers within the scientific community. In 1969, when man first stepped foot on the moon and found his footprint being set in fine powder, Dr. Gold’s theory was confirmed and memorialized.
Proponents of the “oil as a renewable resource”, more commonly known as the “Abiogenic Petroleum Origin” unanimously point to the Eugene Island Block 330 Field as proof that Dr. Gold’s theory is correct. Eugene Island is a submerged mountain located about 80 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The terrain of Eugene Island reveals deep fissures and faults. The area is quite active and these fissures spontaneously belch gas and oil. According to proponents, the oil platform designated Eugene Island 330 began producing approximately 15,000 bbl of oil per day in the early 1970s and by 1989, the flow, following expectations, had dwindled to 4,000 bbls per day. Then, suddenly, production ran back up to 13,000 bbls a day. Additionally, estimated reserves jumped from 60 to 400 million barrels. As if that wasn’t odd enough, geologists discovered that the oil then being extracted was different in composition and age than what was being recovered previously. Although there seems to be some disagreement as to the actual numbers, there is no doubt that the Eugene reservoir was being refilled from a deeper source.
Further investigation by geologists revealed that the oil reservoir at Eugene Island is rapidly refilling itself from “some continuous source miles below the earth’s surface.” Seismic records confirmed the existence of a deep fault and the evidence of oil flowing upward through it into the Eugene 330 oil reservoir.
This sub-strata of oil feeding the Eugene Island reserves strongly supports Dr. Gold’s theory about The Deep Hot Biosphere. According to Dr. Gold, “…oil is actually a renewable, primordial syrup continually manufactured by the earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attacked by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs.”
Adding fuel to the fire, one needs to look no further than at the seemingly inexhaustible oil fields of the Middle East.
“The Middle East has more than doubled its reserves in the past 20 years, despite half a century of intense exploitation and relatively few new discoveries. It would take a pretty big pile of dead dinosaurs and prehistoric plants to account for the estimated 660 billion barrels of oil in the region, notes Norman Hyne, a professor at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. “Off-the-wall theories often turn out to be right,” he says.”
(Cooper, Christopher; “It’s No Crude Joke: This Oil Field Grows Even as It’s Tapped,” Wall Street Journal, April 16, 1999. Cr. C. Casale.)
Dr. Gold was not alone in believing in abiogenic petroleum origin. The theory holds favor with a number of Russian scientists as well as J.F. Kenny of the Gas Resources Corporation . To say that there is a wealth of supporting scientific articles would be an understatement and following this link will take you to many of them.
Although there does seem to be scientific consensus that some amount of oil could be produced through the abiotic process, the idea that our oil resources are being materially replenished in this way via The Deep Hot Biosphere concept is largely dismissed by mainstream thinking. It also has its vocal detractors. Richard Heinberg, in an article published in the Alternative Press Review in October, 2004 said, ” There is no way to conclusively prove that no petroleum is of abiotic origin. Science is an ongoing search for truth, and theories are continually being altered or scrapped as new evidence appears. However, the assertion that all oil is abiotic requires extraordinary support, because it must overcome abundant evidence, already cited, to tie specific oil accumulations to specific biological origins through a chain of well-understood processes that have been demonstrated, in principle, under laboratory conditions.”
Heinberg then makes a point that affirmed my original opinion before beginning my research on this subject and remains the true essence of it still. Suppose oil were a renewable resource, that the earth would continue to replenish our supplies indefinitely, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? When one considers the cost to the environment and the apathy we would inevitably show toward shifting towards more environmentally benign sources of energy, it might just be that cheap and perpetually abundant oil could be more harmful to us in the long run than higher short term oil prices and a diminishing supply.
The conversation about limitless oil supplies, which initially worked its way through the more conspiratorial websites has begun to gain traction on more mainstream sites and why not? It’s a great conversation for the water cooler but should not detract us from the pragmatic realities we face.
Regardless of the answer, America has finally begun to seriously focus on the rapid development and deployment of alternative energies and, although I cannot conclude which side of the abiotic argument may prevail, it’s essential we don’t take our eye off the ball.