Friday, June 28, 2013

The myth of abiotic oil

The subject of oil is such an important matter of discussion that the formation of a separate field of science for the sole purpose of its study has been deemed necessary. Consequently, the study has ramified to different areas, and one particular area of interest has been the origin of oil.

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Many scientists tried pitching in their ideas as to where oil was supposedly coming from. Many were considered plausible, while some others were mythicized due to sheer improbability. One among the latter class came to be known as the “abiotic oil hypothesis”—one that purported that gas can come from non-living sources.

Those who formulated this hypothesis laid their groundwork based on the work of Thomas Gold, an astrophysicist, one of the major proponents of the now-obsolete “steady-state” hypothesis of the universe. According to hypothesis advocates, oil originates from carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas rising through the deep layers of the Earth’s crust—a mixture, which they claim, would react and produce petroleum hydrocarbons. If lucky, these hydrocarbons would move up to earth’s crust so humanity could exploit it for their everyday use.

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Initially, this theory made sense because 1) volcanic activity usually produces carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and 2) laboratory tests have proven that these chemicals are indeed capable of forming petroleum given the appropriate conditions. But it eventually fell out of favor by the end of the 20th century because by that time, it didn’t provide any clear forecasts useful for the discovery of oil deposits. It has also been reviewed by many scientists, with most of them dismissing it as myth, mainly because there has been no substantial amount of scientific evidence to back it up.

Majority of geologists now agree that the world’s petroleum supply is organic in origin. The abiotic theory, however, still cannot be completely dismissed since the mainstream theory on oil origin cannot still be established conclusively.

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