6.6.11

Thar Be BEASTIES Down There (or "Why Big Oil's Big Secret is Good News for You")


Oil companies are amusing. Like most corporations, you have to laugh at them, or else you'll wind up with ASDI Syndrome (Angry Sad Depressed Inebriated). When they're not operating as covert ops platforms (anyone recall the Bay of Pigs?) for the spooky intelligence flavor of the month, oil companies claim poverty for a number of tragic PR reasons, begging pathetically for government bailouts. But there's a big secret they don't want you to know, one that's actually already come out, been marginalized and quietly forgotten -- one that spells good news for consumers, long term.

Postulated back in the '30s, this tidbit came out in the '80s a bit, hit the mainstream in the middle of the last decade... and quietly forgotten ever since. Da-da originally learned of this firsthand from five different sources (two petroleum engineers, one researcher and a three geologists), so he can vouch for its veracity. Basically, like much of human knowledge, we have no idea what's really going on deep beneath our feet, but Da-da will quit stalling and cut to the chase.

The majority of petroleum in the ground does not come from decaying plants and animals. Fossilized plants only make up a fraction. Indeed, the term "fossil fuel" is Da'da's favorite oxymoron, as the lion's share of petroleum comes not from decayed dinosaurs, but from countless microorganisms deep in the earth, along with other natural chemical processes we don't fully understand. Impossible, you say? Well, pump-jacks that have been dry for 50 years have started to pump crude again. (They're designed to kick on in the presence of oil; the same companies that make pump-jacks should make trucks.) And scientists just announced discovery of a microorganism that lives deep in the earth's crust, where we expected no life to be able to survive.

Then there's this from a 2008 Forbes story on a similar topic:
The idea that oil comes from fossils "is a myth. … We need to change this myth," says petroleum engineer Vladimir Kutcherov, at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. "All kinds of rocks could have oil and gas deposits."

Alexander Kitchka of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences brashly estimates that 60% of the content of all oil is abiotic in origin, and not from fossil fuels. He says companies should drill deeper to find it.

Kitchka says oil may be found in all sorts of geological structures such as volcanic rock or deep-sea thermal vents where companies aren't looking today.

Kutcherov points to a handful of productive oil fields in Vietnam and elsewhere that lay in hard rock such as granite. Traditional theory says oil shouldn't be present there. Certain wells in the Gulf of Mexico have produced more oil than expected. The abiotic crowd says they are slowly being refilled from a deeper source.

The abiotic oil theory goes back centuries and includes as its prominent champions Dimitri Mendeleev, best known for inventing the periodic table. It didn't gain much visibility in America until the late Cornell University astronomer Thomas Gold championed it in the 1980s. He said that oil contains organic compounds not because it is derived from fossils but because giant colonies of deep-earth bacteria feed on deep hydrocarbon pools way down in the mantle.
In the 1980s, [Gold] convinced the Swedish government and investors to drill four miles through solid granite in central Sweden. They eventually recovered 84 barrels of oil. Gold considered it a scientific success, even though the project was a commercial failure.
However, petroleum production is not a purely abiotic process. Microorganisms also play a role. Basically, you get all kinds of goodies if you add enough heat and pressure and micro-beasties, and the earth is a very big pressure cooker, naturally producing petroleum, more in some places than in others, with different oil composition in different regions (as it's a product of disparate biological, geologic and chemical processes).


Like petroleum, we also don't fully understand how coal deposits are created, nor how long the processes involved actually take. We don't really know anything -- which is fine, as no one's expected to know everything. But to pretend that you do while manufacturing myths to control the price over something you don't understand... well. Greed is a time-honored human institution. 

Why do you care? Because this flies in the face of oil company and energy analyst and wall street and governmental dogma, misinformation that's been propagated for over 50 years -- esp. in terms of the, "Peak Oil," bugaboo. There will be no Peak Oil, despite all the fear that's generating book sales. This is disinformation, designed to coerce you into buying yet another paradigm -- yet another time-honored human institution. We might eventually use more oil than can be produced, but if we scale back and be smarter about how we use it, as Da-da hopes you're all doing, there should be plenty of oil till energy concerns decide to unveil the other energy sources they've no doubt had under wraps for years, waiting to make money off them. Yes, Da-da just said that oil is a renewable resource, because it is, if we're careful. Alas, corporations have more rights than people, and live longer, and will tell you the "truth," only when it suits their bottom lines.

Sadly, corporations and many humans associated with them only want money, at all costs, and the costs build up over time until this kind of system collapses. When a system interferes with society to such an extent that the society will eventually crumble because of it, it's days are numbered, as are the days of any society that subscribes to it. This will one day involve yet another awesome paradigm shift, and it will happen sooner than you think. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Da-da's pretty sure you'll like the alternative.

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