• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

Editor’s note: Craig Smith and Jerome Corsi will be on Gordon Liddy’s show today at 11:00 a.m., EST.

Let’s examine closely the alleged chemical processes by which decaying plants and dinosaurs are supposed to decay into “fossil fuel.”

Richard Heinberg, one of the core faculty of New College of California (Santa Rosa) the “peak-production” adherent who is author of “Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World” tells us that “the assertion that all oil is abiotic requires extraordinary support, because it must overcome abundant evidence” that ties “specific oil accumulations to specific biological origins through a chain of well-understood processes that have been demonstrated, in principle, under laboratory conditions.” So, if what Heinberg asserts is true, we should have no problem discovering the precise laboratory-proven formula under which ancient plant and animal life decay into hydrocarbon fuel.

Seppo Korpela, of the Ohio State University Department of Mechanical Engineering, gives us a precise description of the chemical process involved. He argues that fossil fuels form when “the early sedimentary layers” at the bottom of a basin are deprived of oxygen such that the organic matter in them did not decay, “as it does in the common setting of kitchen compost.” Then, “anaerobic bacteria” can “go to work and turn the organic material into the substance kerogen. Kerogen can be thought of as immature oil.” The term “anaerobic” refers to a process occurring in the absence of oxygen. When kerogen is found at depths of between 6,000 and 13,000 feet, and when the temperature and pressure are “right,” the kerogen “in the source rock will be cracked into oil. This zone is called the oil window. At depths greater than 13,000 ft. temperatures are so high that oil is cracked into gas.”

Kerogen, it turns out, is not a chemist’s term. Kerogen is a loose, geological term (deriving from the ancient Greek word keros, meaning wax) that an industry oil glossary defines as follows:

Kerogen. The naturally occurring, solid, insoluble organic material that occurs in source rocks and can yield oil upon heating.

Webster’s Dictionary defines kerogen in a somewhat circular fashion: “bituminous material occurring in shale and yielding oil when heated.” Yet, Webster’s defines bitumen as “any of various mixtures of hydrocarbons (as tar) often together with their nonmetallic derivatives that occur naturally or are obtained as residues after heat-refining naturally occurring substances (as petroleum).” Kerogen is not a term typically found in chemistry textbooks or specifically used by professional chemists. Use of the term kerogen is generally a signal that you are dealing with a petroleum geologist or engineer, not a chemical scientist.

Ker Than, a staff writer for LiveScience.com, provides the common sense explanation for how kerogen is supposed to transform into “fossil fuel.”

In the leading theory, dead organic material accumulates on the bottom of oceans, riverbeds or swamps, mixing with mud and sand. Over time, more sediment piles on top and the resulting heat and pressure transforms the organic layer into a dark and waxy substance known as kerogen.

Left alone, the kerogen molecules eventually crack, breaking into shorter and lighter molecules composed almost solely of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Depending on how liquid or gaseous this mixture is, it will turn into either petroleum or natural gas.

Chemical textbooks typically do not provide chemical formulae for kerogen. What we do find in chemical textbooks are many descriptions of how hydrocarbons form when carbon and hydrogen atoms bond to each other by the covalent bonds. So methane is CH4, the first member of what becomes an alkane series, such that members having two-, three-, and four-carbon atoms are ethane, propane and butane, respectively. We have yet to find a chemistry textbook that refers to “kerogen” or describes any combination of ancient algae, tiny Mesozoic sea animals, or dinosaurs as necessary or sufficient ingredients in the formation of common saturated hydrocarbons such as methane, ethane, propane or butane. Methane is also commonly found on planets such as Saturn (and its moon Titan) where science has never recorded the presence of living plants or animals.

Sometimes chemistry textbooks revert to the common wisdom and provide a loose verbal description of “natural gas” as having been formed by “the anaerobic decay of plants and animals” (as we noted before, “anaerobic” refers to a process occurring in the absence of oxygen). The textbooks, however, fail to reference any laboratory experiment where this process has been demonstrated.

The transformation from “kerogen” to “fossil fuels” appears to be more a matter of faith, rather than an observed process that can be described in a precise chemical formula such that we can replicate in a laboratory the process by which the compound is produced. This is a common complaint of scientists who propose the abiotic, deep-earth theory of the origin of oil. Astronomer Thomas Gold, stated the point succinctly on page 85 of his 1998 book, “The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels.” “Nobody has yet synthesized crude oil or coal in the lab from a beaker of algae or ferns.”

Published scientific analyses attempting to describe “the notion of kinetic cracking of kerogen into petroleum” tend to start with the fundamental definitional problem. Consider this example:

It is important to keep in mind that the name kerogen, in opposition with usual chemical nomenclature, does not represent a substance with a given chemical composition. Indeed kerogen is a generic name, in the same sense as lipids or proteins.

The resulting theoretical discussions, while generally elaborate, typically remain unspecified in rigorous chemical formulae that identify chemical transformation processes. These technical discussions of how kerogen produces oil from source rock generally end up describing field-oven heating devices typically designed to analyze rock samples, such as the Rock-Eval prolysis device, into which geologists can cook “source rock” in the field to see if the specimen rock looks like other “source rock” where oil has already been found. Again, the result is practical field geology, not rigorous laboratory science specifying chemical formulae identifying how flora and protoplasm turn into hydrocarbons.

In sharp contrast, methane has been synthetically produced in a rigorous laboratory setting with a full specification of the chemical formulae involved in the combination of iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and water to produce methane at pressure conditions of the Earth’s upper mantle. The scientists conducting the experiment concluded:

The observation of methane formation at mantle pressures is significant because it demonstrates the existence of abiogenic pathways for the formation of hydrocarbons in the Earth’s interior and suggests that the hydrocarbon budget of the bulk Earth may be larger than conventionally assumed.

Scientists have also recently analyzed spectrographic data validating the formation of methane on Mars by fluid-rock interaction in the crust, with no evidence of biologic or organic processes involved.

Scientists proposing the abiotic theory of oil have argued that the “Fossil-Fuel” theory fundamentally violates the second law of thermodynamics, a principle which specifies that energy disperses when permitted, such that the energy flow never reverses. For example, consider that when you release the neck of a balloon the air escapes; the air never naturally rushes to concentrate into a balloon without being forced to do so. Thomas Gold stated the principle on page 46 of his 1998 book:

It would be surprising indeed if the Earth had obtained its hydrocarbons only from a source that biology had taken from another carbon-bearing gas – carbon dioxide – which would have been collected from the atmosphere by photo-synthesizing organisms for manufacture into carbohydrates and then somehow reworked by geology into hydrocarbons.

In other words, the “fossil fuel” from ancient flora or protoplasm would demand that somehow the air went back into the balloon, a reverse flow-of-energy direction contrary to the second law of thermodynamics. In other words, dead dinosaurs and ancient forests follow naturally the law of entropy, “dust into dust,” not the re-energized “fossil fuel” notion of “dust into oil.” We still lack the laboratory demonstrations authors such as Richard Heinberg claimed we would find. Has anyone ever taken a flask of downed flora or dead protoplasm and produced a hydrocarbon fuel out of the mixture, or is this a process for alchemy?

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.