Is The Earth Making New Oil?

October 4, 2005

It’s been trendy for 30 years to predict the end of the Age of Oil. Our economic leaders, automakers included, have been planning for a gas-free generation for decades, more earnestly than ever now. But what if oil is constantly being created by the Earth as a natural product—the gift that keeps on giving us modern society?

That’s the interesting, if not widely held, theory put up by Dr. Thomas Gold and Dr. J.F. Kenney, research scientists (and brought to our attention via Autoblog.com). Gold and Kenney have theorized that oil isn’t as finite a resource as we have been led to believe—and that new oil is made when methane from the Earth’s interior hits steam and condenses into hydrocarbons, i.e., oil. Decayed life forms, they say, simply couldn’t generate the amount of oil in today’s proven reserves — 680 billion barrels alone in the Middle East.

The provocative theory has most of the geologic community against it. Senior geophysicist David L. Tett, at BHP Billiton Petroleum, says that the “abiogenic” theory of hydrocarbon generation has been debated for a long time. “It has some adherents, but most petroleum geologists subscribe to a biogenic source of hydrocarbons” – meaning that oil is made from the decay of organic matter. Field observation backs the conventional theory, but Tett adds that “I cannot refute the abiogenic theory. And even current theories of plate tectonics, which are so widely accepted today, were considered to be nonsense by most geologists 40 years ago.”

“Even if most of the world’s hydrocarbons are indeed abiogenic in origin, there is the question of the rate of its generation. As with biogenic petroleum, we could easily be consuming the resource faster than the earth generates it,” he says. So while the question of where oil comes from could be important, the big issue is still whether we’re using it faster than it’s being created.

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