Peak Oil? Not If This Deep Earth Hydrocarbon Theory Is True
    By News Staff | July 26th 2009 08:11 PM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    We know how oil and natural gas deposits were created; living organisms died, were compressed, and heated under heavy layers of sediments in the Earth's crust.

    Scientists have debated for years whether some of these hydrocarbons could also have been created deeper in the Earth and formed without organic matter.  Now scientists say they have found that ethane and heavier hydrocarbons can be synthesized under the pressure-temperature conditions of the upper mantle; the layer of Earth under the crust and on top of the core.

    Methane (CH4) is the main constituent of natural gas, while ethane (C2H6) is used as a petrochemical feedstock. Both of these hydrocarbons, and others associated with fuel, are called saturated hydrocarbons because they have simple, single bonds and are saturated with hydrogen.

    Using a diamond anvil cell and a laser heat source, the scientists from the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory, with colleagues from Russia and Sweden, first subjected methane to pressures exceeding 20 thousand times the atmospheric pressure at sea level and temperatures ranging from 1,300 F° to over 2,240 F°. These conditions mimic those found 40 to 95 miles deep inside the Earth.

    The methane reacted and formed ethane, propane, butane, molecular hydrogen, and graphite. The scientists then subjected ethane to the same conditions and it produced methane. The transformations suggest heavier hydrocarbons could exist deep down. The reversibility implies that the synthesis of saturated hydrocarbons is thermodynamically controlled and does not require organic matter. 
    hydrocarbons forming in the upper mantle and transported through deep faults to shallower depths in the Earth's crust
    Artistic view of the Earth's interior shows hydrocarbons forming in the upper mantle and transported through deep faults to shallower depths in the Earth's crust. The inset shows a snapshot of the methane dissociation reaction studied in this work.  Credit: Image courtesy A. Kolesnikov and V. Kutcherov

    The scientists ruled out the possibility that catalysts used as part of the experimental apparatus were at work, but they acknowledge that catalysts could be involved in the deep Earth with its mix of compounds.

    "We were intrigued by previous experiments and theoretical predictions," remarked Carnegie's Alexander Goncharov a coauthor. "Experiments reported some years ago subjected methane to high pressures and temperatures and found that heavier hydrocarbons formed from methane under very similar pressure and temperature conditions. However, the molecules could not be identified and a distribution was likely. We overcame this problem with our improved laser-heating technique where we could cook larger volumes more uniformly. And we found that methane can be produced from ethane."

    The hydrocarbon products did not change for many hours, but the tell-tale chemical signatures began to fade after a few days. 

    Professor Kutcherov, a coauthor, put the finding into context: "The notion that hydrocarbons generated in the mantle migrate into the Earth's crust and contribute to oil-and-gas reservoirs was promoted in Russia and Ukraine many years ago. The synthesis and stability of the compounds studied here as well as heavier hydrocarbons over the full range of conditions within the Earth's mantle now need to be explored. In addition, the extent to which this 'reduced' carbon survives migration into the crust needs to be established (e.g., without being oxidized to CO2). These and related questions demonstrate the need for a new experimental and theoretical program to study the fate of carbon in the deep Earth."

    The research was published in the July 26, advanced on-line issue of Nature Geoscience.


    Even if this theory is correct Peak Oil is a reality:

    The good news is, if you talk about peak oil long enough, eventually you will be right.  But that guy on the streetcorner wearing a "The end is near" sign eventually will be too.    Peak oil was supposed to have happened 17 years ago but did not.   Demand and production are higher than ever and some of the blame for that has to lay with scientists and activists who exaggerated then; it makes it harder to be taken seriously now.   'Peak oil', like 'saved jobs' can mean whatever each side wants it to mean.

    The future is not with fossil fuels, that much is certain. and no one will be happier than me when a Mr. Fusion is sitting on top of my trunk, but statements like 'peak oil is here no matter how much we find' is anti-science and approaching fundamentalism.
    no one will be happier than me when a Mr. Fusion is sitting on top of my trunk
    Perhaps if he did, you would ask him to keep his distance.  There might be a lot of hot stuff, especially tritium, generated.

    The Sun is only 'clean' because it's 93,000,000 miles away, with nearly half-a-million miles of gas covering its core, and we're shielded by our own atmosphere and magnetic field (and my hat, when I walk outside in summer.)

    Kristian Olaf Birkeland, pioneer solar physicist, used to wear a fez to protect his head from the solar emissions that give rise to the Aurora Borealis. 
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Russian geo-scientists came to this conclusion almost half a century ago.

    While I think that this is a very interesting subject in the realm of the natural sciences, deep earth hydrocarbons need to be addressed economically in order for it to have any impact on our future energy resource problems. It's there, but will we ever be able to cost-effectively harvest it for our use?

    My bet is that fossil fuel improvements today are like alcohol or whale oil optimization in the 19th century; a waypoint for future energy and not a solution.   Yes, we don't want to condem a bunch of people in China and India to not enjoying a life everyone in the west gets so we can't just impose cuts on fossil fuels without coming across as colonial do-gooders (19th century again) but there's no question clean energy will become cost-effective long before this does.   

    It's still interesting stuff.
    Solar exploitation, for heat, H2,O2 fuel, electricity, in combination with super-insulation, and new technologies such as microwave cooking, fuel cells, make off-grid living, and battery car transportation possible! If oil is given away free, we would apply it to our total independence, as is our human predisposition, and develop solar with it to gain autonomy! Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal, and Geo-thermal are all part of the same game - autonomy for the individual in possession of the tools and technologies for it! The "Ultimate Homesteader" the call of the West, Cowboy songs and all! The other great force, communalism, the tendency to group together for safety and survival will eventually adopt the same technologies to support the "Group" and all will be well in the world! Environmentalists are the primitive spark-plugs for a whole new self-awareness for the human soul! We are at the infancy stages, just leaving the stone ages of war and nuclear forces for war purposes, and the new Chinese and Asian Empires will embrace and espouse these new communal notions as the War-like Americans mired in their own pre-occupations with primitive baubles and glitters die and fade away into history to be remembered sorrowfully as part of mans worst hours on the planet, WWII and Atomic bombs and Hiroshima and Nagasaki the hallmarks of "American" achievement! Yellow Peril indeed!

    I refuse to believe all the oil today is from fossils and such... There is no way that all the animals and plants that were spread out over the planet, would have their "bio matter" pool in selected areas... I can more believe the deep core theory as it seems more logical than what we've been lead to believe... History and science have both been proven wrong several times and I believe this is another instance of that...

    Show me crude oil made in a lab the way it was done with fossils, then I'll buy it... If they can create diamonds, they can create crude, too, if it was really formed that way... Heat, pressure and a load of dead animals should, according to what we've been taught, make crude in about the same time it takes to make a diamond...

    If those involved with the oil companies would forget about misleading us and gouging the life out of us; we ALL know gas CAN be produced and sold for FAR less than over $4/gallon... That's right... $4/gallon is about what we pay in Canada here... At least in BC...

    We don't import crude.. We export it... So why do we pay way above OPEC prices? NAFTA won't allow us to sell something to ourselves for less than we sell to the Americans... How is that fair for anyone BUT the Americans? Tariffs on our exports, tariffs on our imports, but nothing reciprocal...

    Start working on the gear to get this deeper oil and get over yourselves...