The Abiotic Oil Theory
The abiotic theory of oil is one that every now and
again pops up in the annals of oil depletion, especially among those who
disagree with the principles of peak oil. If true, it offers hope for
the future but is there anything in it?
'Abiotic' means 'without life' because it takes the view that oil is
or can be created without the recourse to animal life: this goes against
the established scientific view that it is formed by the decomposition
of mainly marine organisms over millions of years. This view is essential
to the Hubbert Peak theory which assumes that there is a finite amount
of oil and that, once half is used up, there follows an inevitable decline.
Although the orthodox view of oil generation accepts that oil is still
being created as organisms die and are compressed, because this process
takes millions of years, we can effectively say that there is no more
oil available than there was when we first started using it.
One of the leading proponents of the abiotic theory was Thomas Gold
of Cornell University but the theory actually stems from work by Russian
and Ukrainian scientists. The basic theory is that hydrocarbons existed
at the time of the creation of the Solar System and massive pools of
liquid hydrocarbons exist deep within the Earth. This liquid seeps up
through the Earth's layers and slowly replenishes the oil fields that
we drill into.
There is some evidence from the US Department of Energy and Livermore
Lab that suggests that there may be indeed be massive sources of hydrocarbons
in the Earth's mantle, although these are methane rather than oil. Unfortunately
they also would exist over 100 kilometers down and, since oil companies
can only drill about 10 kilometers at most, this source of energy is
The geological arguments for and against abiotic oil can be difficult
to follow but of one thing we can be sure: if there was serious evidence
for such an oil source in large quantities, the oil companies would be
wasting no time in exploration and drilling.
Is it Irrelevant?
It may well be though that whether abiotic oil exists or not is irrelevant.
All over the world, oil fields are peaking or in decline. The US-48 peaked
in 1971 and if their fields are being replenished by abiotic oil, it is
happening so slowly as to make little difference to the overall view.
Hoping that we will suddenly find undiscovered seas of abiotic oil to
solve our problems is probably no more than a pipe dream and only likely
to divert us from the difficult tasks ahead.