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Monday, February 4, 2013

Terrestrial or Celestial? Is it a Fossil Fuel or Abiotic Oil.

Awed Couple.

Now that even the NYT is writing about the game-changing nature of the Bakken oil spewing from the rock in North Dakota, it seems like a good time to revisit the controversy of where the hell oil comes from. Because, aside from its obvious location underground, there is a, probably pseudo, debate going on, unbeknownst to most of us mortals residing outside the realm of petroleum geology, as to the genesis of the most valuable resource known to man.

Because while most westerners assume that  the term 'fossil fuel' is an accurate description of how black gold came to be, it is by no means a universally accepted theory. The idea that stands in counterpoise to that of carboniferous-era vegetation and animal life providing the biota for the forces of pressure and bacterial action to transform into the miracle substance, is the theory of abiotic oil, which posits that oil is continuously produced in the earth's mantle in such prodigious quantities that the term 'depletion' describes a phenomenon that is an impossibility.

However, depletion should not be confused with the term 'peak oil', which is a production phenomena, (so more accurately, POP: Peak Oil Production) not a resource constraint. Just as there is plenty of water on the planet, oceans of it, producing fresh water depends on cycles of production, albeit natural ones, such that  regardless of the fact that we're drowning in the stuff, it's more and more the case that there's less and less to satisfy everyone's needs.

With the exploitation of the resources in the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Marcellus, and soon, California's Monterey shale formations, the descriptions of Russian petroleum geologists who, in the nineties, theorized that "All kinds of rocks could have oil and gas deposits", and that all we need do to extract them is, "drill deeper to find it." Russia has since become the world's number one producer of hydrocarbons.

Thus does the importance of celestial or terrestrial production become salient. In Celestial production, i.e. fossil fuels, which are made possible by photosynthesis of solar radiation into the familiar products of biological life, there is a finite amount of oil and humankind is in the act of pumping energy into the current environment that is the result of stored energy, as though the earth itself was an enormous capacitor. In terrestrial production, not only are the processes that create hydrocarbons derived from gravitational pressures, but the matter they work upon are also, resulting in a cycle that is independent of materials subsumed from the surface of not only our planet, but the sun, as light is not merely energy, but matter as well, resulting in a perennial rain of photons onto the surface of the earth.

The most likely answer is given by Alexander Kitchka of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, who estimates that 60 percent of the content of all oil is abiotic in origin, which translates into 40% being of the fossil fuel variety. This would help explain why the difference in grades of oil is so pronounced, with the light sweet, low-sulfur variety preferred in the West, being almost an entirely different substance than the heavy, viscous, high-sulfur oils of Venezuela's Orinoco belt.

Thus do we have a marriage of the two, analogous to an engagement ring, who's metal band is the result of solar gravitational pressures exerted on atoms in the heart of stars transforming them into the metals exploded into space during a Super-Nova event, and the terrestrially created gemstone that sits thereon, created in the heart of the earth's volcanoes. The placement of this upon the finger usually results in a marriage quite literally made in heaven, and consummated on this earth.

But of course, all marriages are not happy ones, and some are destructively dysfunctional. And the marriage of these two theories, it has become increasingly clear, is, far from decreasing the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere, dramatically, exponentially, inexorably, despite all the green's machines fueled by soy beans, going to continually increase until ... what?

Geologically, I leave that prediction to others. Politically, as it has become increasingly clear during the last generation, though, I can safely say, it will mean the impoverishment and extermination of larger and larger numbers of animals, environments, and humans, as the more oil that's produced, the more people are left standing on the sidelines watching the gas-guzzlers chug away, completely oblivious to the bloated costs they push onto everyone else who they deride as freeloaders and chumps while they poison everything in sight: their own kids included. For whereas after its discovery and adoption as an energy source in factory production, burning and churning oil resulted in a shared prosperity, flooding the globe with its marvels, the new paradigm has larger and larger proportions of it being simply burned to keep the growing population of car owners able to inhabit the earth in a fantasy-like magic carpet-ride existence, where their ability to occupy the planet in one place, work on it in another and play on it in various other locales, all enabled via GPS, and other completely computer-generated technologies that require a vast array of energy-gulping machines totally invisible to the end-user, is valued over everything. Including the very future of the species. Any species. Gives a whole new meaning to Abiotic. Happy motoring.


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