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fossil fuels.....(?)  RSS feed

 
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Not sure where to post this.

I'm a farmer, not a geologist. I'm certainly not wanting to start an argument here.  But this is a serious question that I have contemplated for years.

As most of us know from experience, in many soils it is surprisingly difficult to permanently build organic matter levels significantly in our soils. We can pile on masses of mulch, and the worms etc recycle it into the soil and all kinds of incomprehensible natural processes occur, and years later your measurable soil organic carbon levels will have often returned to status quo unless you maintain a new 'normal' to permanently build SOC. My soils have OM levels usually around 8-10%, some cropping soils are below 1%. Dense long term rainforest soils may have OM up to 50% in the surface layers, but usually  a lot lower in deeper layers. Getting SOC higher and staying that way is difficult. When we go into any natural setting the one thing we don't tend to find is massive layers of organic matter sitting around not subject to natural decay and recycling.

How is it then that we are all so easy to believe that over huge eras of the past there has been such massive amounts of organic matter built up without any decay,  and that this organic matter has somehow been subject to such compression that now we can often dig a well over a large part of the globe surface and have a massive amount of fossil oil come flying out under pressure? Does this suggest that the natural order of life and decay that we understand and observe in the world all around us is a different set of natural laws than how things were aeons ago?

At this stage some abiogenic/abiotic origin for oil seems more likely to me than the usual fossil fuel theory, simply because saying I have no idea where it comes from seems easier than believing it was created during an aeon that seemed to operate on a different set of natural laws than what we see around us now.

I am not interested in the political discussion here, keep the carbon underground makes sense regardless of it's origin. It's the thinking behind the concept that is as interesting as anything else.

I don't expect anyone to agree with me, but I would like to hear your responses!
 
pollinator
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You raise an interesting point. Here's a link to a Nat Geo article on the Carboniferous Period.

In a nutshell, it says that one of the hallmarks of this period was swampy dense forest. Even today, the systems that trap carbon the best are ones that stay damp and oxygen-free, and on land may lead to, for instance, the development of peat bogs over the course of time.

Basically, the scenarios described where it is difficult to keep organic matter in the soil are systems that depend on the breakdown of that carbon to support the life that supports those systems.

The reason tillage was so popular is because it would place organic matter in the living strata of the soil. The soil life would burn through the organic matter artificially mixed into the strata, leading to better crop yield in that season, but subsequent diminished levels of organic matter if not repeated.

But these systems are designed to burn through organic matter. As I understand it, the soils of the most fertile of tropical rainforests are relatively thin, as the organic matter is processed almost constantly, and is tied up in life processes rather than inert in the soil strata, for the most part.  That, incidentally, is why terra preta was such a big deal; soil carbon that isn't consumed by life processes. It might not offer the food that naturally deposited organic matter in the soil provides, but it does maintain structure.

I don't see any reason for skepticism, only more research. If wood can petrify instead of rot, and if whole forests can petrify, given the right conditions, and if bogs create peat over time, as opposed to acting like giant, anaerobic composts, I don't see any barrier to petroleum coming from a fossil source. It seems to me that all that is required are the right conditions, namely something to prevent normal decomposition.

-CK
 
pollinator
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I am a young earth creationist, so I believe in a global flood.    Other questions to ask is why are we finding dinosaur tissue?   https://www.livescience.com/53032-dinosaur-blood-vessels.html

I do believe the explanation you will find will depend on how you look at the world, your world view, if you believe in evoloution ( macro or micro ) then that will set your framework.  
 
pollinator
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Ok. Now I am an Oil geologist and your point is perfectly valid it is difficult to get preservation in organic materials, especially on land.
lets start with the basics if your primeval swamp/Forrest/peat-bog is buried and over time gets far enough down to make a hydrocarbon you're going to get coal. Woody materials make coals, if that coal goes deep enough and gets hot enough it will produce gas.
Most oils however are from marine environments and are from algae (yes there are some plant sources of lipids such as pine needles and there are a few oil reservoirs that contain a significant % of these but..) Most oil that we find comes from still marine deposits, so there was no oxygen to break down the organic material and it had many thousands of years to accumulate. A typical oil source rock is a very fine grained mudstone such as the kimmeridge clay formations in the North sea, it is made from both waxy plant material and algal material deposited in an anoxic marine environment. Some gas is also formed from these deposits as they do also contain other biological remains that are more likely to convert to smaller molecules, and overheating any oil will cause it to become gas.

I would make a generalisation that nearly all  hydrocarbons are made in environments without sufficient oxygen to cause decomposition, whether that been a nasty stagnant swamp or the bottom of an ocean or deep lake, nothing from dry forest floor or your garden is going to become preserved outside of some cataclysmic event like a volcanic eruption.

As to how it gets down so deep, well that's just time, deposition rates for source rocks such as the Kimmeridge clay are SLOW we're talking less than a foot in a thousand years, BUT it was deposited around 150 MILLION years ago, so that's plenty of time for that single foot to add up. (it is more complicated than that of course)
 
Chris Kott
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I am confused. So the earth is only, like, six thousand years old, but the link above suggests that the impossible blood vessels are over eighty million years old?

There is no data supportive of young earth creationism, and metric tonnes of data suggesting that the planet and cosmos are indeed much older. The biblical dating was problematic before the advent of carbon dating. Now, it's not even in the realm of rational discussion.

Also, there is no data anywhere that supports the idea of a global flood in the supposed time of Noah. There is no single layer of sediment from the time in question that exists in the same strata over the surface of the whole planet, and no disruptive event that could have eliminated that evidence after said flood, therefore the possibility for there to have been a global flood as described is extremely narrow, vanishingly so.

There were population bottlenecks over the course of our evolution, but there wasn't one as recently as described in Christian mythology. There would be proof through decreased biological diversity.

I was raised Roman Catholic, so I know that of which I speak. I was able to discern fact from fable at an early age. Our archaeological records are by no means complete, but the picture they provide of the last six thousand years is pretty coherent, as far as it goes, and the physical accounts of ice-core samples and dendrochronology give us that picture from other angles.

-CK
 
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Ben Waimata wrote:At this stage some abiogenic/abiotic origin for oil seems more likely to me than the usual fossil fuel theory, simply because saying I have no idea where it comes from seems easier than believing it was created during an aeon that seemed to operate on a different set of natural laws than what we see around us now.

I am not interested in the political discussion here, keep the carbon underground makes sense regardless of it's origin. It's the thinking behind the concept that is as interesting as anything else.

I don't expect anyone to agree with me, but I would like to hear your responses!



You are taking exactly the right approach, Ben.
Never expect agreement from anyone. Instead state your view clearly and describe how it is different from the other view. That is all you can do.

Remember cholesterol? (lol)
Doctors were totally wrong for decades, and their wrong conclusion was accepted by the public as a religious article of faith.

It is unwise to assume that there is always a connection between the art of science and objective reality. Reality always wins because it is governed by the inexorable law of the consequences of actions.

We live on the border of over ten thousand acres of open land which has never been altered by human activity, so we get to observe up close and personal the effect of the natural laws which govern the life which exists on it. Compared to the depth of the ground, the region of plant (and animal) activity is paper thin and is constantly fed by whatever plant (or animal) matter is deposited onto the surface to be broken down into more basic components.

In our garden, we do the same by constantly depositing matter on the surface so as to keep the layer of plant activity deep enough to produce food.

In growing food there is no destination, no permanent state of soil viability, only a constant journey towards an endless horizon.

 
Greg Mamishian
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Chris Kott wrote:I am confused. So the earth is only, like, six thousand years old...



Chris, you're only confused because that is not stated anywhere in the Bible. I don't believe that any more than you do.



 
pollinator
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Ben,

There is an oilternate hypothesis, abiogenic petroleum. This is prevalent in Russia and China and explains much about why they don't tend to follow the alternative fuel/environmental goals the west does. It is funny, the wiki article says it is disproven. In Russia they think we are ridiculous. Time will tell. Especially in china, they are interested in alternative and battery power more for internal energy security and decreased pollution (actually pollution transfer mostly- out of the cities).

The problem with this hypothesis to me is that the rate of new hydrocarbon production is likely to still be really slow, like slow enough it doesn't matter. The movement from the mantle to reasonably close to the surface would be pretty slow, or there would be artesian oil popping up all over, and that ain't happening. The levels of CO2 in deep water and rate of change is beyond my knowledge.

Anyhow, that removes the issue of carbon capture on land, because it is essentially pressure catalyzed in the ocean rather than biologically catalyzed, at least from my recall of the hypothesis.
 
pollinator
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One of the main reasons we infer that fossil fuel deposits were formed in wetland environments is the geological structures and rock types which are invariably associated with them. Oil and gas reservoirs are located between marine sedimentary layers, more often than not in a salt dome (this is a tipoff that there was a sea there once). Coal seams are found in sedimentary formations where fines were laid down atop the swamps where all the organic matter was held in an anaerobic state. We can see the "fuels of the future" in places like major river mouths...the Mississippi Delta is dumping incredible amounts of feedstock that will become oil and gas in a few million years under the right conditions. And peat land is just the next epoch's coal.

Abiogenesis models don't stack up for a lot of reasons: what is the catalyst and why is it never found in association with the product? Why don't fossil fuels ever occur in igneous or metamorphic rocks? And even if the theories were sound, the rate of formation would be on geological timescales, so it's not like those depleted reserves are going to refill themselves.
 
gardener
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hau Ben, it's good to see brain exercise going on since this is what keeps us all from delving into dementia and other physical/mental degradation.

As you noted, organic material is always in a constant state of flux, plants sprout from seed, grow and reproduce, die and decay.
This is part of the great hoop of life, birth, living, dying, decaying, without completing the hoop of life, the earth would end up a dead planet.

I am confused somewhat though about your idea that oil must come from something other than plant matter, you do know about peat or peat moss as many people call it, yes?
peat is plant matter that upon dying becomes water logged, falling over at the plant base and this creates a mat of dead but not rotting plant matter.
Peat bogs are places where this happens, year after year, decade after decade, and has gone on for at least the last 12 thousand years.
Peat bogs are found in Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, USA, Canada, pretty much anywhere you can find a swampy piece of land, you can find a peat bog.
Oil can be thought of as a peat bog that got covered with many feet of ground up minerals then took a trip on the tectonic plate journey, this area went under ground and was placed under growing pressure from the forces of earth that move the land masses around.
At the same time heat was applied as the "peat bog" traveled down, getting closer to the core of the earth, this combination of pressure and heat did the same thing your putting a piece of food into a pressure cooker does, it broke down the plant materials, making them softer and eventually they became more like a liquid.
If you put a piece of meat into a pressure cooker and let it cook for a week or longer, when you opened the vessel at the end, you would not find anything that looked like meat, all the protein strands would have broken down so that you might find a strand or two of muscle fiber but most of it would be more like mush.
This is what created those oil deposits, pressure and heat from being close to the magma of the earth's core. We can get a small inkling of the pressure involved by donning a wet suit and scuba gear and diving to around 100 feet below the surface of the ocean.

You mention oil flying out under pressure, that occurs when a well is drilled into a deep pocket of oil that has a gas pocket above it in the same hollowed out space, the oil men call it a gusher.
Most oil can be carbon dated and those samples that have been carbon dated show they died either before the dinosaurs or in their beginning phase so that puts oil somewhere in the 100 million year old range.

From the earths very beginning the life of our planet has been a series of cycles that made a complete circle and this is still going on and the day that stops will most likely be the day the planet dies and becomes like Mars is today.

Carbon is the atom that all the life forms we know are based on, anything alive has sequestered carbon within it's body.
The larger that body (Like solid matter (i.e. ground, or water) the more carbon it can hold and thus sequester. Currently on earth the oceans are the largest body and ground (or land) is the second largest body, the atmosphere is actually the largest body and has the most volume.
This is why it is important to keep as much excess carbon as possible from getting into the atmosphere, when carbon gets into the stratosphere it hits a layer that won't let it rise out into space.
As the carbon gets thicker up there, it creates a type of shield, this shield holds heat in towards the planet surface and that causes temperatures to rise.
We call this phenomenon "global heating" and it can create a chain reaction of events that wreak havoc on our planet as we know it.
Currently we can measure the rising ocean levels at around 1.5 inches per year, this happens because the hotter the planet gets, the more the "permanent" ice melts, the more that ice melts, the higher the oceans become.
We want to limit the amount of carbon able to reach that upper part of our atmosphere so that the planet doesn't get any hotter or any cooler because of human activity (the nature part is going to happen regardless).
By our adding dead organic matter to the soil (and not cutting down trees at too fast a rate) we are in effect burying carbon and it will stay there in the ground until it has decayed into humus, at which point the actual plant matter is gone, broken into the component parts that it was built from.

Now a little more about oil, 1. we know from chemical tests that it is organic matter based. 2. the abiogenic theory can easily be disproved since the organic matter would not be available and we know oil is organic matter. 3. there are so many books and papers published and proven through testing that it should be a moot point as to what oil is and where it came from.

As to any " different set of natural laws" The laws of nature can change because we find out something we previously didn't know or were unaware of, it has been happening ever since humans began to think and applied that (thinking) to their observations of what was going on around them.

Redhawk

(while I was writing this Phil Stevens posted an excellent writing)
 
Skandi Rogers
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Ben,

There is an oilternate hypothesis, abiogenic petroleum. This is prevalent in Russia  



I can with certainty say that Russian oil companies, those who actually look for find and extract oil do NOT support this hypothesis.

Replying to someone else's comment of a lack of hydrocarbon reservoirs in metamorphic or igneous. They do exist, but the porosity and permeability of those rock types is generally too low to either hold oil, or release it if they do contain it. Those that exist are generally in fractured granite such as those found in the Cuu Long Basin in Vietnam.  (most Oil/gas is held in Limestones or Sandstones). There are probably more igneous reservoirs than I know about because they tend to be un-economic to develop, flow rates are low and drilling costs high. But an important point to make is the oil does not come from the granite. For an oil reservoir to form requires three things, A source rock, migration pathway/s, reservoir (granite in this case) and a seal. if any of those three are missing then you will not find a usable source of oil/gas.

As Phil Stevens mentions we can see all these processes happening right now, from oil generation and migration in existing reservoirs, to shallowly buried High Organic matter mud-stones, to deep ocean deposits and peat bogs.
 
Tj Jefferson
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what is the catalyst and why is it never found in association with the product?



There are several different catalytic processes proposed, but the main one is heat and pressure which would show up how? There is a list on the wiki that maybe would be a reasonable jumping off point of the various possible contaminants. Most are found in association (they are not very complex molecules so it doesn't support the hyposthesis either). The C14 dating is probably the best critique, but the CO2 levels were very high at that time, like orders of magnitude compared to recent. I don't think that is a well formed critique of itself. Potassium 40 to my knowledge would be better (I have never seen such a short-life isotope used for those time frames). C14 has a couple counfounders to me, notably that not all plants take in atmospheric ratios (like C4 vs C3 plants). I have no idea what metabolism was predominant at that time.

An of course the shallow biotic hypothesis has issues too (where did all that hydrogen come from? That's a big question).  More like the cholesterol issue, I don't think we know as much as we think we know.

One of the main reasons we infer that fossil fuel deposits were formed in wetland environments is the geological structures and rock types which are invariably associated with them.



Phil, correct me if I am wrong, but that is possibly due to the fact that that is "invariably" where we prospect for them! There are other types of formations that house at least natural gas and coal, so this is not convincing to me. It is expensive to prospect at these depths, so we look for associated structures and look there to obtain the greatest yield. I have a couple family members who worked in this field, and that is exactly what they did, look for associated structures, test wells after.

I guess I don't have much intellectual curiosity about it unless either deep biotic or abiotic genesis is going to provide renewed hydrocarbons in less than a geologic time frame somewhere accessible. I'm not sure anyone is proposing that, so it is effectively a nonrenewable resource like very old growth forest.

 
Tj Jefferson
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I can with certainty say that Russian oil companies, those who actually look for find and extract oil do NOT support this hypothesis.  



That is my understanding as well. People who don't work in science probably don't realize we have to work with contradictions and unknowns like everyone else. We had a major bomb dropped by the main journal in my field this month about a sacred cow we all held true. It has messed with my mind for a week! I am waiting to see if it is replicated, but if it is, we have to change a whole bunch of procedures. Paradigm shifts are probably more disruptive the more "objective" a field is. It's one reason I don't laugh quite as hard at alternate hypotheses as I used to. A paradigm change makes fools of the best of us.

For most things the best evidence is what people actually do successfully, and profit is a signal. No one is prospecting for $200/barrel oil. Is it there? Maybe, but no one cares right now. Shale was a paradigm that all the best journals said was folly in my lifetime (not saying it's benign) and now it is a major source.  
 
Phil Stevens
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@Tj - If there are non-sedimentary formations that have been found to yield quantities of any fossil fuel, it's news to me. I suppose that in the early days of exploration the association was made and since then no one has wanted to waste time or money on it.

The hydrogen in hydrocarbons comes from carbohydrates in the organic matter, does it not? I always thought that was self evident, but maybe someone with deep knowledge of the subject will correct me.

Also, shale oil is on its way out for the reasons its detractors predicted several years ago: the depletion rates of fracked reserves follow a very different curve from conventional deposits. Instead of a bell curve, it looks more like a cliff, since the basic premise is a lot like shaking a soda bottle and then popping the top. (I also like the soda metaphor because tight oil and gas have been like a sugar buzz and the headache will certainly follow.)

Chasing ever-lower EROEI reserves is not a long-term strategy and that's why the majors never got involved in fracking. All the shale producers are financed by VC and hedge funds, and those guys want big time returns, thank you very much. As soon as the cumulative depletion curves in places like the Bakken and the Permian Basin start to outstrip all the new production that keeps coming online (think Red Queen), that's going to become the Dept of Making Investors Sad. The irony in all this? We'll see even cheaper oil and gas prices for a while, but the lower margins will put producers out of business.
 
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Seems to me it doesn't matter where fossil fuels come from,  unless there is a reason to think they renew themselves on a human time scale.

Burning stuff has the inevitable consequence of particulate production, and the negative health effects of these particles are relatively unquestioned.

Fossil fuel energy production isn't very grassroots.
If you have your own homegrown  energy ,  you needn't make alliances that will draw you into morally bankrupt choices.

 
Tj Jefferson
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Phil,

If there are non-sedimentary formations that have been found to yield quantities of any fossil fuel, it's news to me.

I looked through this thread, I did not have any intention of suggesting imporous stone would be a good location. I'm not sure where that was. What I was referring to was specific strata, salt domes  and other formations where we tend to explore as far as I know. I think the discussion has diverged a little but maybe this will draw it back: this is a chicken or egg problem- do the strata trap oil on the way up or do they define a "crucible" required for formation. That is the difference between the hypotheses right? Oil coming up could be from either deep biogenic or abiogenic. Oil trapped on the way down or buried is shallow biotic by definition, theres no other carbon source.

The fact that good formations (i.e. low extraction price) tend to be certain types of locations (which I agree with Skandi) to me is neither fish nor fowl. It does not definitively answer the origin question posed by the OP, in my opinion. It just says where you are most likely to find it. We have derived three hypotheses (that as a raw layman I know of) and we set out to find what predictions we would make based on the hypotheses. We see if the predictions hold up. We modify from there.

My understanding from about 20 years ago, three factors waste oxygen, carbon age, turpenes/hemelike molecules:
shallow biogenic (buried surface biomass)- issue is carbohydrates with C=O, where did the O go (all H used to make C-H)? Reductive stone was the correct answer on the test (but we don't see oxidized minerals as a component of the oil I don't believe in significant quantities). Then the refined hypothesis became the oil moved from its formed location to the reservoir location. Terpenes from the buried biology.
deep biotic- the source of the carbon is the difference, with thermophilic bacteria fixing CO2/carbonates and making long chains from deep ocean water, using surrounding minerals to sequester oxygen and using the energy of the rxn for life. This is why there are terpenes in it. C14 dating at issue for continuing production. C14 is unreliable at that time scale (I can't imagine using it for even 100k years in any other field, am I wrong?).  This just means most of the CO2 hasn't been atmospheric for ~50k years. 93% of the CO2 right now is in the ocean, we know little of its circulation time. Not a deal breaker for me.
abiotic - just deep biotic without the biota. Terpenes from some questionable source. C14 and oxygen as above. Lack of oxygen due to solubility in water. Seems not very likely to me.

  there are so many books and papers published and proven through testing that it should be a moot point as to what oil is and where it came from

with respect Dr Redhawk, I guess I have been through a couple of paradigm shifts and the number of papers has less bearing than before. I am as guilty as anyone of producing answers to support my hypotheses, several published! The content of the papers is something I am interested in, and whether they have adequately addressed the primary shortfalls of the hypothesis. You probably could cite lots of books and journals about chemical agriculture before your "transition"! Yet you were able to make the change which is fantastic and now lead the counterassault.  

All these attempt to account for the chemical composition of the oil. That may tell us by inference how it formed, and that by inference where we may find it.

My contention is that mostly we look by pattern recognition of strata for location, and built the hypothesis around the deposit locations. Not a bad idea, just every complex hypothesis has unexplained portions that can sink the whole, like Newtonian physics.
   
 
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We moved some posts out of this forum because they were getting a bit off topic and discussing the creation of knowledge and science. Since this thread is supposed to be about discussing the creation of fossil fuels, we split off the more philosophical discussion about science to keep this thread on track.
 
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I’m not going to wade into all all the comments above, but want to respond to the original poster.

Paraphrasing;
We don’t observe carbon deposits building up in our environment SO the fossil fuels cannot be formed by carbon build up.

The problem with this argument is that it only takes a single counter example to disprove the hypothesis. We don’t observe carbon build up in our environment because oxygen breaks down carbon. However there are many low-oxygen environments where carbon definitely does build up. Typically these are marine environments; the bottom of lakes, river deltas, seas, upland bogs. I personally have direct experience of upland peat bogs here in the UK. Some of these have peat tens of meters deep. You know it when you end up stepping into it up to your chest!

On top of that, we know what geologic processes create various sedimentary rocks and we can observe them being formed in the current day as well. The same process that happened millions of years ago are still happening now. We can observe directly the many features of these rocks and they paint coherent pictures of how they were formed and under what geological conditions. And these pictures include processes which account for formations of oil, gas and coal.
 
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