Are Fossil Fuels really Fossil?

I just finished reading the Deep Hot Biosphere by Thomas Gold.  I thought it was a really interesting read, though be forewarned that this book is treated like the moral equivalent of 9/11 conspiracies by much of the petroleum engineering profession.  Mr. Gold's hypothesis is that our oil and natural gas is not a result of dinosaurs and ferns getting mashed under the earth into oil  He posits that methane is naturally occurring in the earth in huge quantities, and the oil and gas we are exploiting are actually this naturally occurring methane either coming up as-is or converted through chemical and biologic processes underground into heavier oils.  We now know that many of the planets in our solar system have large amounts of naturally occurring methane - why not the Earth?

I found his hypotheses very well reasoned and compelling.  I had a few questions I would have like to ask of him, but he died in 2004.

  • Golden Boy

    I guess the first question I'd ask is why so many wells across the globe are declining or tapped out.

  • Gold is a well-known "out there" guy, with all sorts of interesting and out-of-the-mainstream theories and hypotheses. I haven't read this book, so I'm not sure what it says -- but I remember reading about him proposing this theory (about the origins of naturally-occurring petroleum) 20 or more years ago. I have a vague memory that he succeeded in talking some government (Norway comes to mind for some reason) into drilling a test well deep into the crust in some location where conventional oil finds would never occur -- but where Dr. Gold thought there was a good probability of an oil field should he be correct. I don't recall ever seeing the results of that test well, if it did occur.
    If you liked this bit of Dr. Gold, you should see some of his other stuff!

  • markm

    "why so many wells across the globe are declining or tapped out"?

    Probably because they were drilled 25 or more years ago, mainly in that big surge of exploration from 1973 to the early 80's. Gold's theories don't say that you can just drill a hole and get an endless supply of oil or gas. It only percolates up a little bit at a time in any one location (remember, it has to pass through solid rock), so you've got to find a place where geological features collected a pool of fuel out of that slow percolation. With 18 inch well casings, you're going to empty that pool thousands of times faster than it took to fill it.

    The big question with regard to gas and oil supplies is whether as we keep drilling deeper, we're going to soon hit a depth where there simply is no more, or whether we'll still be finding gas pockets (at least) all the way through the crust. If natural gas is the product of decomposed vegetable and animal matter, it only got sucked down so deep and only in certain places, so there's a finite limit, and we might be nearing it. If it's gradually cooking out of the mantle, we've got a hundred years of developing better drilling technology before we have to worry about hitting the bottom.

  • One of the comments on the Amazon page indicates that the book claims that coal doesn't come from an organic source.

    Is this claim in the book? I wouldn't believe it if it was, because I'm pretty sure the mechanics of coal formation are well understood and easily provable.

  • markm

    Xmas: IIRC, fossils are sometimes found in coal veins, which I consider proof beyond a reasonable doubt that at least that vein was of organic origin.