Re: Rapid formation of petroleum: article from Associates for Biblical Research

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Date: Tue Apr 19 2005 - 04:39:25 EDT

Oops! I failed to note the appended article describing Herschbach's work.

 "...Thomas Gold...
proposed that the organic matter found in petroleum is actually waste
matter from microbes that feed on the petrochemicals as they head upward
to the earth's surface...."

This comment reveals ignorance of petrochemical data. The chemistry of crude oils is complex, differs from reservoir to reservoir, and reveals much about oil sources. Petrochemists analyze the oils for "fingerprints" with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. In this way they often can tie reservoirs convincingly to source rocks. From studying chemical composition they can also tell a great deal about the organisms that yielded the oil. For example, that's one way they distinguish phytoplankton oil from land plant oil. A petroleum chemistry course instructor told us that he found complex derivatives of shark liver in some samples! To ascribe all organic matter in crude oil to microbes would be a gross error. (Although some oils seem to have sourced partly from cyanobacteria.)

"...The new findings may serve to corroborate
other evidence, cited by Gold, that some of the earth's reservoirs of
oil appear to refill as they're pumped out, suggesting that petroleum
may be continually generated...."

We discussed this here about a year ago. Some of the cited "evidence" is probably from the Eugene Island 330 well in the Gulf of Mexico. Geologists involved were pleasantly surprised but felt the refilling of the reservoir was adequately explained as resulting from oil migrating up along an active fault from deeper conventional reservoirs. No one felt a need to entertain Gold's hypothesis as a likely explanation. A brief description of this result is at
http://www.pnl.gov/er_news/08_95/er_news/oil1.kb.html<about:blank>

Don

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>
  To: asa<mailto:asa@calvin.edu> ; Hon Wai Lai<mailto:honwai@bumble.u-net.com>
  Sent: Monday, April 18, 2005 5:52 AM
  Subject: Re: Rapid formation of petroleum: article from Associates for Biblical Research

  Hon Wai Lai wrote:

  "Is the mechanism involved in the formation of natural gas very similar
  to the formation of crude oil?...."

  I couldn't find any ABR newsletters more recent than 2004 at the referenced site, so I can make only a minimally informed response. Furthermore, I specialized in seismology research, not geochemistry, so what I know about the latter has come primarily through osmosis during my 25 years with a major oil company.

  Inorganic processes in the subsurface are known to be capable of generating methane. Thomas Gold of Cornell has also proposed that inorganic processes can generate petroleum. I don't know his details, but it's easy to find references to Gold's work if you want to pursue that. So far industry scientists believe Gold's hypotheses lack support from subsurface data.

  The standard model in the industry is that all significant quantities of subsurface oil and gas have been cooked by geologic processes out of dead organisms, primarily phytoplankton. (There are shallow deposits of biologically generated gas, but these are of relatively little commercial significance.) There is a lot of evidence supporting this standard model and at present little or no good evidence opposing it. It's what everyone whose job it is to find oil uses.

  The organisms typically are deposited in fine-grained marine sediments (muds), compressed and heated as depth of burial increases, and chemically altered to generate oil. Such sediments become shales after compression. The oil is typically squeezed out of the shale primarily by pressure (and associated diagenesis) and flows into neighboring permeable rocks both above and below the shale. If the flow is upward, and there is no impermeable barrier, the oil will find its way to the surface and be lost. Geologists believe most oil ever generated has been lost in this way.

  Oil trapped under impermeable barriers will continue to undergo chemical alteration as depth of burial and temperature increase. When pressure and temperature exceed known limits, the oil converts to gases which, when sufficiently cooked, become predominantly methane. There are also varying fractions of CO2 and H2S.

  Study of fossil pollen grains obtained from wells is important for oil exploration on some prospects, because analysts can tell from pollen color what subsurface rock temperatures have been reached. If temperatures have exceeded the limits for the oil-gas transition, the exploration prospect may be abandoned if the company is not interested in gas. Other techniques, such as analysis of vitrinite reflectance, are used as well to judge the level of hydrocarbon maturation.

  As far as I know, no knowledgeable practicing geochemist expects gas to be converted back into oil by natural processes.

  Don

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Hon Wai Lai<mailto:honwai@bumble.u-net.com>
    To: 'ASA'<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>
    Sent: Sunday, April 17, 2005 1:57 AM
    Subject: Rapid formation of petroleum: article from Associates for Biblical Research

    Is the mechanism involved in the formation of natural gas very similar
    to the formation of crude oil?
    From my limited knowledge of chemistry, it seems to me the creation of
    methane from inorganic materials under high pressure in the laboratory
    (maybe with added catalyst) is a well established fact. So what's new
    about Prof. Herschbach's findings?

    ............................
    ABR ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER
    Vol. 5, Issue 4
    April 15, 2005
    http://www.biblearchaeology.org<http://www.biblearchaeology.org/>
    1-800-430-0008
    abrofc@aol.com<mailto:abrofc@aol.com>

    Feature Article

    INVESTIGATING GENESIS
    Stephen Caesar

    "The Rapid Formation of Petroleum"

    Most geologists believe that the world's supply of petrochemicals such
    as oil and natural gas comes from the decay of ancient plant and animal
    matter over the course of millions of years (O'Donnell 2005: 10). Those
    who adhere to a Genesis-centered view of origins, on the other hand,
    have maintained that petroleum was formed rapidly during a
    high-pressure, catastrophic event. Recent research suggests that the
    latter group may be correct.

    Dudley Herschbach, research professor of science at Harvard and
    recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry, published an article in
    the autumn 2004 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of
    Sciences describing how researchers created methane (one of the most
    common petrochemicals) rapidly under high-pressure conditions. The
    scientists combined three abiotic (non-living) materials - water,
    limestone, and iron oxide - and then crushed them together "with the
    same intense pressure found deep below the earth's surface. This process
    created methane (CH4), the major component of natural gas," reported
    Harvard Magazine (ibid. 10-11).

    Prof. Herschbach actually revived an earlier theory that had fallen out
    of favor. For quite some time, Russian and Ukrainian geologists had
    maintained that reactions of water with other abiotic compounds deep
    below the surface of the earth produce petroleum, which then bubbles up
    toward the surface of the planet. Mainstream science rejected this
    theory, since petroleum contains organic matter, a fact which currently
    leads scientists to believe that petroleum derives from once-living
    matter. However, Cornell astrophysicist Thomas Gold, who embraced the
    Russian/Ukrainian theory in a book titled The Deep, Hot Biosphere,
    proposed that the organic matter found in petroleum is actually waste
    matter from microbes that feed on the petrochemicals as they head upward
    to the earth's surface (ibid. 11).

    The scientific world ignored the book, but not Herschbach, who contacted
    Dr. Russell Hemley, a Harvard Ph.D. who now works at the Geophysical
    Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC, and suggested
    that the two of them conduct the methane experiment. They were joined by
    Henry Scott of Indiana University and other scientists, and together
    they created the same conditions found 140 miles below the earth's
    surface. At this depth, pressures mount to more than 50,000 times those
    at sea level. According to Herschbach, "The experiment showed it's easy
    to make methane" (ibid.).

    Harvard Magazine reported: "The new findings may serve to corroborate
    other evidence, cited by Gold, that some of the earth's reservoirs of
    oil appear to refill as they're pumped out, suggesting that petroleum
    may be continually generated" (ibid.). With results like that, it is no
    wonder that the magazine subtitled its article "Hydrocarbon Heresy."

    References:
    O'Donnell, E. 2005. "Rocks into Gas." Harvard Magazine 107, no. 4.

    Stephen Caesar holds his master's degree in anthropology/archaeology
    from Harvard. He is a staff member at Associates for Biblical Research
    and the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern Science,
    available at www.authorhouse.com<http://www.authorhouse.com/>.
Received on Tue Apr 19 04:42:49 2005

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