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Oil found in bedrock structures since 1930s

GeoScience Limited is a petroleum industry consulting company in the United Kingdom that specializes in bedrock formations and oil production from fractured basement reserves. GeoScience maintains on its website a technical summary that details the occurrences of commercial hydrocarbon reservoirs in fractured basement rocks from 30 different countries. The review concentrates only on those petroleum reservoirs found in igneous, metamorphic, and volcanic rocks – what petroleum geologists like to call “basement formations.”

“Why is such a survey needed?” is the question a true believer of the “Fossil-Fuel” theory might ask. If oil is an organic product produced from the debris of dead dinosaurs and ancient forests, then oil should only be found in sedimentary rock, the softer debris upon which flora and fauna are found on Earth. Why look anywhere else?

Some geologists might make an argument that oil could possibly be found in metamorphic rock, since metamorphic rock is typically sedimentary rock that has been hardened under intense Earth pressure that results, for instance, when mountains are formed. But few “Fossil-Fuel” geologists ever bother to look for oil in igneous or volcanic rock. When oil is found in igneous or volcanic rock, “Fossil-Fuel” theorists just explain the problem away by assuming that that the oil has “seeped down” into the basement rock through faults or fissures from the sedimentary “source rock” where the oil was formed.

Yet there is another way of looking at the problem. The oil found in basement rock may well be abiotic oil, a deep-Earth product that forms naturally in the mantle of the Earth and seeps up into sedimentary levels. For this reason, oil found in or below basement rock represents a direct challenge to the “Fossil-Fuel” theory. The compilation maintained by GeoScience makes clear that oil in commercially productive amounts has been found in basement rocks for more than seven decades – since the 1930s – all around the world. Responsible geologists are forced to acknowledge the data, even when they decide to dismiss the data. As GeoScience explains:

The occurrence of naturally fractured basement reservoirs has been known within the hydrocarbon industry for many years but generally regarded as non-productive, they have failed to draw the attention of the explorationist. Often passed over as “of no economic potential,” their investigation by exploratory drilling has been left to chance. Yet they are commonly distributed in various petroliferous regions throughout the world.

Put more simply, when confronted with evidence that directly challenges the “Fossil-Fuel” theory, traditionally trained petro-geologists tend to close their eyes and dismiss the evidence as insignificant. It’s much more comfortable to shut out any information that conflicts with conventional wisdom. The politically correct view throughout the petroleum industry remains even today that the origin of hydrocarbon “fuel” is “fossils,” dead dinosaurs and ancient forest debris that have cooked relatively close to the Earth’s surface in sedimentary rock, over eons, at the high pressure conditions needed to transform the biological debris into petroleum.

GeoScience generally accommodates the “fossil-fuel” argument that organically formed oil has settled in basement rock reservoirs. Still, GeoScience acknowledges the challenge that the oil found in bedrock may be abiotic, citing the work of Russian geologist A.A. Kitchka:

Recent work by Kitchka supports the theory of an inorganic mantle origin of petroleum. His paper introduces the concept that petroleum represents a complex derivative of the fluid inclusions saturated with hydrocarbons in crustal and mantle minerals. He concludes that the multi-stage segregation and migration of deep petroleum are realized by fracturing and faulting. He cites a total of 370 oil and gas fields with commercial productivity from crystalline basement.

The GeoScience compilation also references a technical paper published 45 years ago, in 1960, in which a group of geologists led by K.K. Landes reported that about 100 million barrels of oil had been produced to that date from various basement-rock structures worldwide. Landes reported that petro-geologists had found most of these discoveries by accident. Typically, oil companies stop drilling operations as soon as bedrock is reached, believing that there will be little or no chance for oil production.

Landes disagreed. He cautioned that the probable reserves recoverable from basement rock are of such a magnitude that “discovery by design should become the rule.” Landes wondered how many oil discoveries had been missed because of inadequate exploration of the “barely scratched” basement rocks. Also apparent from the analysis is that conventionally trained petro-geologists find no reason whatsoever to drill through bedrock to examine deep-Earth structures in the upper mantle.

Some of the wells reported in the compilation are surprising, especially given the mindset of “Fossil-Fuel” theorists. Consider just two examples from as early as the 1930s:

Orth Field, Central Kansas (Rice County)

Discovered in 1933, the Orth field lies in northwestern Rice County. The oil was produced from fractured PreCambrian quartzite on the summits of the buried hills. Each well produced an average of 120 bbl/day (barrels per day) of oil with a maximum production of 939 bbl/day. About 1,243,000 barrels of oil had been produced from quartzite in 16 wells in the Orth field by the beginning of January 1952.

El Segundo Field, California

El Segundo oil field, which was discovered in 1935, is located along the coast of Santa Monica Bay, southwest of Los Angeles County. The field is divided into two areas by a northwest trending zone of faulting. The eastern part produces from a basal conglomerate made up of schist pebbles with the western part producing directly from fractures in the schist itself.

The first well was drilled to the east of the faulted fracture zone. The daily production of oil from the basal conglomerate was about 600 barrels. The western part of the field began producing in 1937 from the fractured schist reservoir. The production rate was 4,563 bbl/day at a depth of 7,253 ft. (2,210 meters, 1.37 miles). This discovery was accidental as the well was exploring for the schist conglomerate. 66 wells were drilled in the development of the El Segundo field with a wide variation in production from adjacent wells.

Traditional petro-geologists would argue that these bedrock oil fields were small, relatively insignificant finds. They would certainly point out that the fields ultimately depleted. Such typically dismissive comments miss the main point of this column. If oil is “fossil fuel,” then why has so much oil for such a long period of time been found in bedrock structures? Moreover, why don’t these bedrock oil finds stimulate more extensive exploration in the deep-Earth structures below the bedrock where oil is found?

The answer to both questions is simple. When oil exploration data do not fit comfortably into accepted theory, petro-geologists minimize the results in order to stifle the investigation, preferring to avoid the disturbing possibility that the “Fossil-Fuel” theory itself might be nothing more than a convenient fiction.

This intellectual discomfort is at the heart of the reason why Thomas Kuhn, author of the 1962 classic book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” argues that paradigm shifts in science are so difficult. Alternative paradigms, such as the abiotic, “Deep-Earth” theory of the origin of oil, are typically championed first by “outsiders” – in this case by Cornell astronomer Thomas Gold, author of the 1998 classic book “The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels” – or, in this instance by us, Craig Smith and myself, the authors of “Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil.”

Risking careers by challenging traditional ideas is understandably more difficult for those who have invested decades of their lives in the unquestioned belief of scientifically conventional views.