Fuel Without the Fossil

A number of years ago I read The Deep Hot Biosphere by Thomas Gold because I was working on a novel which included extremophile bacteria.  Gold's premise was that some/many/most underground hydrocarbons were actually produced underground from methane deep in the earth that is converted by underground bacteria to longer-chain hydrocarbons as they move toward the surface.    Many thought gold to be a quack, including most in the oil industry, but I thought his hypothesis at least intriguing enough to test.  Which someone apparently has:

An article in Science today seems to suggest that the abiotic theory is correct. In a fairly dense article entitled "Abiogenic Hydrocarbon Production at Lost City Hydrothermal Field,"
researchers Proskurowski et al., find evidence of the abiogenic
formation of short-hydrocarbon chains in an area where hydrocarbons
would not otherwise be able to form by the biogenic theory. What
Proskurowski et al. identified was the formation of carbon chains 1 to
4 carbon atoms in length, with shorter chains forming deeper, and with
isotopic signatures ruling out biogenic origins. The conclusion of the
article is as follows: "Our findings illustrate that the abiotic
synthesis of hydrocarbons in nature may occur in the presence of
ultramafic rocks, water, and moderate amounts of heat."

My sense is that we may now say a fraction of oil is abiogenic, but are a long way from saying that any serious percentage is of non-fossil sources.  But it is interesting.

  • CT_Yankee

    Many thought gold to be a quack, including most in the oil industry...

    Hasn't that been true about almost anyone in history that had an original idea? First, we destroy the character of the fool, then we don't need to discuss the merits of the idea. Case solved.

  • dearieme

    I used to mention this theory to undergraduates I lectured, in hopes that it might prove someday to have some truth in it, but mainly to see their reaction when told about anything that actually merited the adjective "radical".

  • anon in tx
  • I think the same thing happened to the guys that discovered cold fusion. They really did do it, then everyone figured out how it couldn't happen afterwards. Now they are humiliated.

  • skh.pcola

    ...in an area where hydrocarbons would not otherwise be able to form by the biogenic theory."

    That's been my problem with biogenic oil since I was about 10 years old. To call petroleum "fossil fuel" is simplistic and dismisses geological reality. That, and the fact that some Russian research has lent credence to the abiotic theory with their observations vis-a-vis replenishing oil reservoirs. Agreed, all petroleum may not be abiotic, but it is not all "fossil fuel," either.

  • Mike

    Sounds a lot like how some of the copper mining works. I guess certain bacteria live off acid and oxygen. When the two and pumped into copper rich earth blown from a mountain, the bacteria break down the copper creating a copper rich acid. (I don't know any of the terminology, so bear with me!) This copper rich acid actually looks like blue Listerine.

    The copper can be removed from the acid via electrolysis. Without the bacteria, the copper cannot be separated. Without the oxygen being piped into the ground, the bacteria dies.

  • Does anyone here know what the evidence is for the biogenic theory of oil?

  • My Self Mike

    Really good and grate knowledge for fossils.


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