Abiotic Snake Oil

A few days ago, Energy Bulletin reported that CNBC hosts 'Deep Oil vs. Peak Oil' debate. This turned out to be brief dialogue between Matt Simmons and Craig R. Smith, author of Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil. This book promotes the theory of abiogenic petroleum formation as we see from this worldnetdaily.com blurb.
Smith and co-author Jerome Corsi contend in "Black Gold Stranglehold" that oil is not a product of decaying dinosaurs and prehistoric forests, but that oil is constantly being produced by the earth, far below the planet's surface, and that it is brought to attainable depths by the centrifugal forces of the earth's rotation.
The book seems to be a follow-up to Thomas Gold's 1998 book The Deep Hot Biosphere in which the maverick astronomer contends that
Gold's theory of oil formation, which he expounded in a book entitled The Deep Hot Biosphere, is that hydrogen and carbon, under high temperatures and pressures found in the mantle during the formation of the Earth, form hydrocarbon molecules which have gradually leaked up to the surface through cracks in rocks.
Here, we will examine some specific claims made by Smith during his CNBC debate (mov clip) with Simmons to see if they are true. We will defer a more theoretical discussion of abiotic oil claims to a later date but as a bonus, we'll learn something about petroleum geology as it relates to Vietnam's oil production where the alleged "super deep" oil comes from.
During the CNBC interview, Smith claimed that Vietnam's White Tiger and Black Lion fields proved that abiotic oil was a reality and used this argument to support his general claim that worldwide oil depletion is a fiction. More information is available at EIA's Vietnam Analysis Country Brief. These kinds of claims have been around for the last few years. Back in 2003, Julie Creswell wrote Oil Without End (orignally from Fortune Magazine 02/15/03) and reported
In the quiet waters off the coast of Vietnam lies an area known as Bach Ho, or White Tiger Field. There, and in the nearby Black Bear and Black Lion fields, exploration companies are drilling more than a mile into solid granite--so-called basement rock--for oil. That's a puzzle: Oil isn't supposed to be found in basement rock, which never rose near the surface of the earth where ancient plants grew and dinosaurs walked. Yet oil is there. Last year the White Tiger Field and nearby areas produced 338,000 barrels per day, and they are estimated to hold about 600 million barrels more.
So, the "mystery" here is that oil is being extracted from porous granite basement rock which has presumably always been deeply buried, not sedimentary (source) rock that was formed by the burial, heating, chemical transformation and compaction of organic matter.

Looking further, I consulted an article from the American Association of Petroleum Geologist's (AAPG) Explorer series entitled Vietnam Finds Oil in the Basement to find out what was really going on here. First, these offshore fields are producing.
Bach Ho (White Tiger), Vietnam's largest oilfield, produces almost 280,000 barrels of oil per day from granitoid basement.

Recently, a basement-reservoir play extension in the nearby Su Tu or "lion" fields generated wide industry interest.

The Su Tu Den (Black Lion) field currently produces about 80,000 barrels per day, but PetroVietnam expects to increase output to 200,000 barrels per day within three years.
But most importantly, what it the geological context?
Wallace G. Dow, an AAPG member and consultant in The Woodlands, Texas, calls the Cuu Long oil "paraffinic, classic lacustrine crude" expelled into fractured basement from lower source rock.

"The oils in the basement are virtually identical to the oils in the sandstone sitting around the basement," Dow said.

"This is the key -- they migrate updip through faults into the basement, in horst blocks," he said.

Dow emphasized that the oil's components indicate a lacustrine organic facies with lipid-rich, land-plant debris and fresh-water algal material, refuting theories of abiogenic origin in this area.
The bottom line is that the fractured basement granite containing the oil has been lifted up due to rifting and is now underlain by sandstone source rock. This is the source of the oil, which has migrated up into the basement granite. These fields are not examples of abiotic oil at all. For a rebuttal of abiotic oil, read Richard Heinberg's The "Abiotic Oil" Controversy.

What is disturbing is that these abiotic oil arguments are presented in the mainstream media (MSM, here CNBC) without any critical analysis. In the short interview format TV allows, Simmons was unable (or unwilling) rebut Smith's claim. Many fantastic and unbelievable claims are being put forward now as people scramble around to dispute oil depletion--abiotic oil is one of these. It is perhaps the most insidious of these false claims with its implicit promise that, to paraphrase Duffeyes, everything is OK because "God [the deep hot biosphere] will put more oil in the ground".
Just a couple of observations.

1.If you have never seen it, I have a lot of porous granite in my back yard.
2.If I'm not mistaken, Isn't the Earth rotation slowing down?

Based on No. 2 above, I think we are still doomed regardless how Nature makes stuff.

Just an observation :o).

Ummm. Here's why that dude loses all credibility with me. Even if the abiotic theory of oil production were true, the addendum that it is being driven to the surface by the rotation of the earth is absolutely ludicrous. Any technically knowledgeable person with half a brain would know that it was being driven to the surface simply by virtue it's low density and the pressure gradient between lower elevations and higher elevations in the crust.

Yeesh. If this were true, then we could also argue that magma that flows to the surface is also driven by the rotation of the earth.

The snake oil being sold by Smith, Lynch, Huber, et al is potentially very damaging to the oil industry, and ultimately to the world.   If we do have infinite oil, then rising oil prices must be a result of a "conspiracy."  

The problem is that consumers prefer to believe the infinite oil theory, because then they don't have to worry about their jobs, their Hummers and their $500,000 four bedroom mortgages.

What do we have to offer?  Cut spending, narrow the distance between your job and where you live to as close to zero as possible, drastically reduce your energy usage, look into organic gardening, etc.  

The CNBC "debate" was very interesting.  Smith got the opening and closing statements with the co-host helping out with the ambush.   The reason is very simple.  These financial guys are deeply threatened by the Peak Oil concept.  I have a rhetorical question:  what would the value of the 100 largest financial institutions be without the 100 largest oil fields?

In my opinion, the Hubbert "Linearization" model is our best ammunition, where one plots annual production as a percentage of cumulative production versus cumulative to derive estimated total cumulative production (Qt).  The Lower 48 peaked at 50% of Qt.  The North Sea peaked at 52% of Qt.  Texas peaked at 54% of Qt.  

Saudi Arabia is currently at 55% of Qt, and they are desperately trying to drill as many wells as possible.  The world is at 50% of Qt, and world year over year production is flat.  

So far, I have seen no examples of countries/regions showing increasing production beyond 55% of Qt.

Jeffrey Brown

The validity of the abiotic oil theory is of great importance to the peak oil debate, if for no other reason than that the abiotic theory is increasingly being cited by opponents of peak oil  as 'proof' that we will never run out of oil.

I have read a bit about the abiotic theory, and I have to say that there are some pursuasive arguments for it.

There is a fairly recent paper with the incredibly cumbersome title of: "The Evolution of Multicompent Systems at High Pressures: VI. The Thermodynamic Stability of the Hydrogen-Çarbon System: The Genesis of Hydrocarbons and the Origin of Petroleum" (whew!) It is authored by an American and three Russians.  (Unfortunately, I no longer have the website where this paper can be viewed.)

Essentially the paper argues, and claims to prove, that under the temperature and pressures typical in the 'oil window, organic material of a biological nature is prohibited by thermodynamic constraints from being transformed into the far more chemically reduced ('reduced' as in oxidation/reduction reactions) hydrocarbons found in oil.

It also disputes the claim that under conditions of higher temperature and pressure, as encountered when one gets nearer to the mantle, all hydrocarbons get broken down to methane. (I recall the argument being that very high temperatures will drive the reactions toward methane, but that very high pressures will drive it toward more complex hydrocarbons.)

The paper ends with the results of an intriguing experiment. They took water, iron oxide, and calcium carbonate and placed the mixture into a specially designed high-pressure chamber intended to simulate the pressure and temperature some 60 miles deep. I recall the pressure  being something like 100 Mbar, which is incredibly high. Well, after they cooked this mixture under those conditions for some length of time, the 'froze' the products of the reaction via a technique I don't recall and then analyzed them for hydrocarbons. While they didn't get oil, they detected about 20 different organic molecules, thus suggesting that if you squeeze inorganic carbon, water, etc hard enough and at a high enough temperature, you can produce organic molecules.

I know it is a big leap to go from this lab-scale experiment to actually proving abiotic oil exists, but I found the results thought-provoking.  Though I am not well versed enough in thermodynamics (particularly chemical thermodynamics) to critically review their thermodynamic analysis, what if they are correct in claiming that it is thermodynamically impossible for living organic matter to transform into petroleum hydrocarbons under the conditions existing in the oil window?  

Anybody out there familiar with this paper of work along these lines to comment one way or the other?  

Mind you, I am high skeptical of abiotic oil, and even if it did exist, I doubt it will do us any good in the time frame that we would need it. But I'd like to be enlightened about what is and isn't known about the chemistry of oil formation.

Below, a good rebuttal by Dr. John Clarke:
The fact remains that the abiotic theory of petroleum genesis has zero credibility for economically interesting accumulations. 99.9999% of the world's liquid hydrocarbons are produced by maturation of organic matter derived from organisms. To deny this means you have to come up with good explanations for the following observations.

  1. The almost universal association of petroleum with sedimentary rocks.

  2. The close link between petroleum reservoirs and source rocks as shown by biomarkers (the source rocks contain the same organic markers as the petroleum, essentially chemically fingerprinting the two).

  3. The consistent variation of biomarkers in petroleum in accordance with the history of life on earth (biomarkers indicative of land plants are found only in Devonian and younger rocks, that formed by marine plankton only in Neoproterozoic and younger rocks, the oldest oils containing only biomarkers of bacteria).

  4. The close link between the biomarkers in source rock and depositional environment (source rocks containing biomarkers of land plants are found only in terrestrial and shallow marine sediments, those indicating marine conditions only in marine sediments, those from hypersaline lakes containing only bacterial biomarkers).

  5. Progressive destruction of oil when heated to over 100 degrees (precluding formation and/or migration at high temperatures as implied by the abiogenic postulate).

  6. The generation of petroleum from kerogen on heating in the laboratory (complete with biomarkers), as suggested by the biogenic theory.

  7. The strong enrichment in C12 of petroleum indicative of biological fractionation (no inorganic process can cause anything like the fractionation of light carbon that is seen in petroleum).

  8. The location of petroleum reservoirs down the hydraulic gradient from the source rocks in many cases (those which are not are in areas where there is clear evidence of post migration tectonism).

8 ) The almost complete absence of significant petroleum occurrences in igneous and metamorphic rocks (the rare exceptions discussed below).

The evidence usually cited in favour of abiogenic petroleum can all be better explained by the biogenic hypothesis e.g.:

  1. Rare traces of cooked pyrobitumens in igneous rocks (better explained by reaction with organic rich country rocks, with which the pyrobitumens can usually be tied).

  2. Rare traces of cooked pyrobitumens in metamorphic rocks (better explained by metamorphism of residual hydrocarbons in the protolith).

  3. The very rare occurrence of small hydrocarbon accumulations in igneous or metamorphic rocks (in every case these are adjacent to organic rich sedimentary rocks to which the hydrocarbons can be tied via biomarkers).

  4. The presence of undoubted mantle derived gases (such as He and some CO2) in some natural gas (there is no reason why gas accumulations must be all from one source, given that some petroleum fields are of mixed provenance it is inevitable that some mantle gas contamination of biogenic hydrocarbons will occur under some circumstances).

  5. The presence of traces of hydrocarbons in deep wells in crystalline rock (these can be formed by a range of processes, including metamorphic synthesis by the fischer-tropsch reaction, or from residual organic matter as in 10).

  6. Traces of hydrocarbon gases in magma volatiles (in most cases magmas ascend through sedimentary succession, any organic matter present will be thermally cracked and some will be incorporated into the volatile phase, some fischer-tropsch synthesis can also occur).

  7. Traces of hydrocarbon gases at mid ocean ridges (such traces are not surprising given that the upper mantle has been contaminated with biogenic organic matter through several billion years of subduction, the answer to 14 may be applicable also).

The geological evidence is utterly against the abiogenic postulate.

src: peakoil.com
For some basement oil this abiotic explanation is one of the possible explanations.  However it is only one of them and not the best.

Even if it was true do the proponents imagine that oil bubbles out of the mantle at 83 million barrels per day to satisfy our present consumption?   If abiotic oil was correct then it would still be a very slow process over billions of years not a panacea for our addiction.

They still have to explain biomarkers and the very simple fact that most current oil is found where the current theory predicts it to be.  We could not be that wrong for so long and found as much oil as we have.

It's nearly impossible to disprove the possibility of abiotic origin of oil.  The pertinent question, as you suggest, is whether the generation rate of oil, whatever the source, is close to what we need to sustain our current rate of use.

If you assume the generation rate is 83e6 barrels/day, 7 barrels of oil weighs 1 metric ton, then in 1.4 billion years 0.1% of the Earth's mass has been converted to oil, and it only took 300 yrs or so to create all of the oil-like hydrocarbons we have thus far observed on the planet.  So if one would want to argue that abiotic oil can replenish our current rate of consumption, you would have to also explain either what happened to those vast oceans of oil generated over the history of the planet or why the process has suddenly speeded up now that humans have decided to burn it for fuel.  I don't have to know much about geology to know that the argument is improbable at best.

I wonder what the correlation is between people believing in creationism and believing in abiotic oil? and betting on favorites in sports, liking Sean Hannity, etc. People like to see things in positive light, and ones past few days experience are the best expectation for tomorrow. Peak oil is a 5 standard deviation event that no matter how close and real it is, most will ignore. Its in their brain chemicals...
I am a Christian.  And I believe that Abiotic oil is a farce, A "snake" oil that is lurking to draw people away from the "Truth" that is going on today.

 We have USED oil all so willy nilly that we are at or very near the peak.  

 Anyone that tries to tie the Abiotic oil "myth" into the debate over "HOW THE WORLD GOT HERE" is maybe slightly tongue in cheek.  

 Don't mix Apples and Oranges.

Except that the Hebrew bible hijacked by Christians implies that the earth must be under 10,000 years old, whereas the orthodox theory for the formation of oil requires hundreds of millions of years.
It's the Intelligent Designer at work, Phil.
that's right Phil, the only way we can disprove abiotic oil is by cutting the earth in half, especially with the argument that most of the oil is under the deep ocean floor, etc.

testable hypotheses are the key to science.  the rest is conjecture until you can replicate the process...

All you have to know is that Smith's co-author Jerome Corsi also co-authored a book with John O'Neill that led to the "Swift-Boating" of John Kerry.
And you have to know you are being suckered into a FALSE argument because no sane Peak Oiler would say, "we are about to run out of oil" !!!

That is absolutely NOT the issue.

The Peak Oil issue is that our extraction arteries (or veins) are getting more and more clogged with old age plaque. It's getting tougher and tougher to pump the oil out through those clogged blood vessels. That is why many experts say we won't get much past 85mb/day globally, no matter how much in "reserves" is claimed to be down there.

Joule mentioned that in their 'abiotic experiment' they cooked a mixture containing calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a major ingriedient of BONES. I have bones so I must be abiotic.
I'm not sure I follow your line of reasoning re calcium carbonate and bones.

Anyway, I think the provocative thing about the experiment cited (assuming they did the chemical analyses correctly and really made the stuff they claim to have made) is that it appears possible to produce hydrocarbons from water and inorganic carbon under the conditions of pressure and temperature near the earth's mantle. If correct (and a big IF), then that would support the abiotic theory.

The other thing I find troubling is that petroleum hydrocarbons are in a much more chemically reduced state than the organic matter starting material. How id they get so much more reduced in the largely oxidizing environment of the earth?  

Can anybody out there point me to some sources that postulate a step-by-step chemical pathway by which 'dinosaur juice' gets transformed into more reduced light hydrocarbons?

Go look at a biodiesel setup.  Organic fatty acids are converted into C14 hydrocarbons in a two-step process.
Conventional biodiesel is not hydrocarbons, it is methyl or ethyl esters of fatty acids.
Fatty acids ARE hydrocarbons.  Hydrogen and carbon plus a bit extra at the head.
By that definition, alcohols are hydrocarbons too.  You should probably consult with the chemists before changing their definitions for them.
Hydrocarbons are not just alkanes.  Long chain mono-alcohols do share the properties of long chain alkanes.
Well, fatty acids are already very much like oils, so when you cook it with an alkali (I think?) not much of a further transformation needs to take place. Ditto for certain animal fats.

However, what I don't understand is how biological organic matter, primarily consisting of proteins and cellulose-based materials get transformed under natural conditions into lower mocelular weight hydrocarbons that have a HIGHER energy potential than the starting material.

Are you (or anyone else out there) aware of a step-by-step mechanism whereby the proteins from say dinosaur flesh or the cellulose from ancient ferns, get converted into things like hexane or octane, both of which have a considerable higher energy potential than either the dead dinosaurs or ferms?  

Nor do I think you can explain this by anaerobic biological fermentation, because unless there is a significant infusion of external energy, the products of fermentation have a lower energy potential than the starting material.

It strikes me from my layman's exposure to the subject that most of the explanations of oil formation deal mainly with the geology of oil deposits and don't give much attention to the actual chemistry of how one substance gets transformed into another. For me, it is not enough to say that the dead biological material got 'cooked' for several millions of years; one needs to explain what is actually happening during that cooking and whether the thermodynamics point in a direction toward rather than away from the relatively low-molecular weight hydrocarbons that characterize crude oil.


Is there something not explained by the observed products of the thermal breakdown of kerogen in rock?
The short answer is that the shorter chain hydrocarbons do not have a higher energy potential than longer chain hydrocarbons like cellulose.  They're just easier to burn since they're liquids.

Dead dinosaur and fern, on the other hand, would burn like coal if the water content is removed.

So, how coal just developed from ferns and celulose?

Maybe soon we will see an abiotic pseudo-scientific hypothesis about the coal too...

I am sure that the wackos that developed the abiogenic oil "hypothesis" are the same wackos that developed IDCreationism. They are wackos...

I have two reactions to these kinds of discussions:

First, I'm very glad that there are people with the expertise, energy, and inclination to so thoroughly debunk abiotic oil.

Second, I'm depressed by how often we have to slap down this idea, only to have it pop up again, like some energy geek's nightmare version of whack-a-mole.  Via my web site I get about one e-mail a week from someone telling me all about abiotic oil or asking me about it.  Sigh...


I completely agree with you.  A couple of years ago I was listenting to an NPR show on the radio, and they had some pompous physicist on who waxed on and on about abiotic oil.  His delivery was very articulate and confident, and he was very disdainful of anyone who dared to disagree with him.  

At the same time, I was driving back from observing a project in western Colorado where rock containing high concentrations of organic kerogen (aka oil shale) was being heated by electric heaters lowered into the ground, and oil was being created by pyrolyzing this kerogen.  This oil migrated (as a vapor phase) away from the heaters and was captured and produced in separate production wells.  

As I drove I kept thinking about what this pompous ass was droning on about, and I was also thinking about Occam's Razor.  What was the simplest explanation for oil in the vast majority of oil reservoirs in the earth? Was it the generation of oil by simple heating under pressure of organic-rich sediments from relatively shallow depths of the earth's crust?  Or did it involve generation of hydrocarbons though complex chemical reactions deep within the earth then migrating these fluids and gases long distances through non-porous, impermeable rock to much shallower depths where they could be trapped.  

I had first hand visual evidence that the first explanation was possible.  The second explanation, though theoretically possible, seemed unbelievably unlikely to me.

IMHO abiotic oil is a complete fanatasy.  Everyone who is truly engaged in the science of geology and the practice of finding and producing hydrocarbons knows this.  Anyone who believes different, send me a note, because I would like to take you on a field trip to northwestern Colorado where there is 1.3 trillion barrels of this potential oil sitting at or just below the surface of the earth.  

(p.s. - Don't read this to mean that I believe in oil shale as a solution to our energy problems.  I don't!  However, the oil shale does exist and you CAN make oil from it - however, it is not something that I would recommend)


Take a deep breath of fresh air.
Calm down.
The "pompous" "scientist" had a minor victory over you because he got you emotional, he got you angry. This was his real goal. He is a "manipulator".

Manipulators do not win the debate on the basis of logic and fact. They win by pushing other people's emotional buttons, often in very devious ways.

Would it not be enough to simply say that "real oil" comes from "real rocks and other geological realities" within the Earth?

Would it not be enough to simply say that, by contrast, "snake oil" comes from the "snake's mouth"? I know the John Kennedy's of geology and you sir, are no John Kennedy?

Don't get intoxicated by the fumes of boiling oil that emerge from this guy having pushed your emotional buttons.

All humans are emotional. Nothing to be ashamed of. Just step back after the event and think about how the guy "manipulated" the one way "debate". In this case, he was on the radio with some false claim of "authority" of being an expert while you were not on the radio. You could not talk back then.

It is probably his false claim of being an "expert" that got you most upset because you knew better while ordinary people listening to the same radio station do not.

Some more reading material on the topic of "false authority:"
1) Does MSM use false authority? http://uncommonsense.typepad.com/root/2004/11/the_real_human_.html

2)False authority in IT matters:

TV shows look usually for convincing individuals (aka good sellers) and not for hardcore experts. The debate between Smith and Simmons is a perfect exemple of this, Simmons has the knowledge of an industry insider contrary to the other guy who sells book and he's obviously a spin doctor. Putting the two together nakes obviously a good show but confuse people about the seriousness of oil depletion!

Look at the website of this guy:

Any credentials?


"Craig Smith is street smart, yet spiritually driven. His goal is the integration of godly principles into our daily priorities, allowing the spiritual, business and personal side of life to all fall into God's order. This perspective enables him tell the truth about money, stewardship and ethics."

remember that the Sophists dominated their culture, while Socrates was forced to take poison and Plato's Academy languished outside the walls of Athens.

from: http://www.csulb.edu/~crsmith/nixford.html

I have not found Craig's college transcripts, but they probably read like this:

Snake Oil 101 .........   A+
Art of Deception 2005 ... A++
Physics .............     F-
Chemistry ..........      Dropped
Thermodynamics ...        Expelled

Going back to Some earlier points that folks have made.

 In the New Testament Christ warns us about those that would come after him trying to draw people away from the TRUTH.  

 I get the Feeling that this Smith charactor is so much more than a run of the mill snake oil salesman, he hoods his book in the culture of "God Will Save You".  God saved us.  BUT NOT to drive an SUV!!  Jesus would have still walked, you can not touch people from inside a car.

 Anyone Preaching a "GOOD LIFE" here on earth, with the whole scheme of "everlasting" OIL, is IMHO just one of those false teachers I have been warned about.

 Smith is a Danger to those that would listen to him, and walk down his paths, because they won't be Prepared to face the coming events.  PEAK OIL is here folks, get used to the idea.

Precisely why (plus an E-mail the other day) I added abiotic oil to my FAQ.
Q: Will we ever run out of oil?

A: [Correct Answer] No not really !!!

This is a trick question because much depends on what your definition is is of "oil" or of "run out" or of "we".

Let's assume that by "oil", you mean light sweet crude of the kind that comes out of the ground (from biotic origins or whatever) and by "we" you mean, we Americans (clearly the only "human" creatures on the planet) and by "run out" you mean there won't be any under ground for us to try to suck out.

Well in that case, there will always be some trapped pockets that our straws have not managed to reach. It's kind of that mocha latte creamy stuff that hangs along the walls of your mocha-frappo coffee cup and you can't quite get to with your straw.

Just because a reservoir rock is a granite does not prove that it has never been near the surface.  Although granites crystallize at considerable depth they have been uplifted and covered with younger sedimentary rocks in many places.  A good example of that is exposed in the walls of the Grand Canyon where a granite has been eroded and covered with a shallow-water marine sandstone.  

Although it may be impossible to disprove the presence of abiotic oil, the occurrence of oil in the world's commercial oil fields certainly fits the conventional biotic explanation.

The entire theory of abiotic oil seems far-fetched to me.  The ingenuity called forth by psychological denial is wonderous indeed!

There are lot's of ways to prove or disprove or prove the validity of a hypothesis through indirect means. Look at Black Holes. You literally cannot observe these suckers, yet you can indirectly prove (in the looser correlative sense) that they exist. Abiotic oil is like that. You have to rely on circumstantial evidence to get at the truth in this case.
Am I the only one who yelped when he saw that the co-author of this tome was Jerome Corsi?  The same Jerome Corsi of "Unfit to Command," the same Jerome Corsi who commentates on WorldNetDaily?  http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Jerome_Corsi

It made me wonder who would choose such a writer to work with so I looked up Craig R Smith... a Gold Bug of the first order who puts out slick marketing pamphlets to hustle the rubes. http://www.craigrsmith.com/

Or, how about this?

"[Craig R.Smith] In 2000, in a partnership with Strategic Christian Services and Open Church Ministries, Swiss America published The Big Picture: The Shape of Things to Come on Planet Earth a one-hour program discussing social, economic and spiritual trends in the 21st century."

The wonder is this book is taken seriously at all.  Uff!

so I looked up Craig R Smith... a Gold Bug of the first order who puts out slick marketing pamphlets

whirkland, thanks for the link
More amazing is that Craig the-phony-geologist Smithmiester has the audacity to put up the transcript of his Mad Mad Money exchange with an out-gunned Matt Simmons:

Brian Westbury: Well, that's great. Let me come back to you (Matt Simmons) - hundreds of years ago Thomas Malthus predicted that the population of the earth would outgrow its, our ability, to grow food. Clearly, technology made him dead wrong. Uh, it was just simply a horrible forecast. Isn't it the case that, that, that's likely to happen here in the energy industry as well?

I already posted re "False Authority" in MSM here  What kind of maroon gets away with saying Malthus was dead wrong?

Craig Smith: But logicians, you know, for years have talked about the fallacy of composition. You know, just because the Saudi oilfields may be depleting, it doesn't mean the world's supply of oil is diminishing and I think we're starting to prove that over and over again, whether it be in the Niger Delta, or whether it be in the Trinidad Basin, or the Taiwan Basin. I think that America needs to lead the charge in embracing the technology in getting out there and finding these proven reserves that are out there...bringing them to market and bringing this price into a reasonable area where we can continue to see the synchronization of global growth that we have experienced for the last twenty years. This, this whole idea of...1972 MIT did a study, Limits...Limits to Growth. (BW: "Right") And thirty years later, guess what? None of their predictions came true. All of these were running out predictions and the world's coming to an end have never proven out and I don't think this time it's going to prove out again.

Duh ... OK so Easter Island never happened? Rome did not "Collapse"? Caeser is still Emperor of world? (he owns a salad company, doesn't he?)

You find and fill in some more Craig-abioitc-BS in the below boxes. This game is called, spot the manipulation:

This is an intresting spin... does one need to find a proven reserve!
I think that America needs to lead the charge in embracing the technology in getting out there and finding these proven reserves that are out there..
Yes, this is circular logic and clear-as-day double talk. A reserve is not "proven" until you've drilled down and proved there is oil in a place where you "suspected" (due to seismic soundings) that there may be a geological trap zone. What he is really saying is, Let's drill like crazy and hope we hit paydirt.

The more important point I was trying to make was about that other piece of "sound logic" ---about us (the Craig-optimists of the world) not having been wrong before, --about "Chicken Little having been "always" wrong so far.

That is what we lemmings say as we approach the edge, "Gee we've never fallen over before!"

Very sound logic.

Tell that to the folk in 1918 who laughed about that new strain of flu coming around. Flu shmoo. No flu has been a disaster before. You Chicken Littles are always wrong, always predicting the sky will fall.

Abiotic oil? Boy do I have an investment opportunity for you! My mother-in-law has a half dozen old wells in northwestern PA that should be refilling and ready to go about now. Call me. We'll make a deal.


I want the money-back gurantee papers to say I get exponential growth forever on my investment.

Quick. Where is your Cayman Islands website so I can give you my credit card and PIN numbers?

what about pressure?
I'm am under quite a bit these days.
Stress is a result of pressure...yes?
Lets be clear.

To many times the symptoms are treated;
Examined, overstated-exaggerated,
and exploited, while the root cause
the disease itself ignored.


COMPLICATIONS... For example - such as a symptom,
FEAR - which is in a cascading manner the sire
of the condition of PARALYSIS which begats
an entire system to mal-function ultimately
preceeding DEATH.

Yet the diseae (not the symptoms)
are unthinkable to treat do to the matter
of a vested interest which concludes
as a deviant, anti-biotic?
That is life threatening to some.
A minority of the population actually.
I believe a good deal of people can do
and prosper with the bare neccesities.
In a nut shell one mans loss is anothers gain .
Just that simple.

My observation learned is that a few control the
many... and just as the pryamid is constructed
the top is at an altitude of unsustainable capacity.
The few control the many?
In the course of human events where the many desire
to be controlled. The truth of the current political,
economical environment is that the many are stauntly
in control but, unwittingly unaware of the fact.
The stress of everyday living (actual symptoms)
overcome and obscure the source/pressure/cause.

What we have here is the idea that the life support
machine an oil(hydrocarbon)based economy/society is
>>>> killing us !!!
The only solution is to pull the plug on the so
called life suport gadget.

Can't do it.
The top of the pyramid (social elitist would plunge)
and DIE, surrounded by the humble bread and butter
If this control is lost you are free to think for
yourself. And while I do not understand it a good
many of the bread and butter crowd are cowards,
drug induced, brain washed, hypnotizzzed into seeing
themselves as margarine and crackers. BUNK!!!

Sure i cringe at the reality of sudden change,
but nothing is as sudden as looking one self in the
mirror and comtemplating an honest assestment,
personal responsibility over an individuals assests
and liabilities.

P = peak (productions LIMIT to meet human behavior)
O = oil  (energy)
R = reserves (oil available for production)
K = factor of effect (human behavior)

as a formula expressed as : (O + K) / (P - R) = 1


what do I know ?
I enjoy time here at the Drum.

Think small,think fast,peace

Very nice. Thanks for debunking oil Creationism.

I said on an earlier thread that one of my pet peeves is how the abiotic creationists continually invoke Eugene Island as an instance of an oilfield "regenerating" itself. I found this refutation by Laherrere:


This increase in reserve estimate is so unusual that it led to an article in the WSJ . . . entitled "Oil: a renewable resource?--Odd reservoir off Louisiana prods petroleum experts to seek a deeper meaning," suggesting that oil was coming from deeper sources. . . . It is really nonsense. In fact, the Eugene Island oil and gas field is flanked by the largest and best known fault in the Gulf . . . which puts the reservoir in direct communication with the source rock. Evidently, the rapid depletion of the reservoir dropped the pressure allowing it to be recharged that [sic] oil and gas from the source rocks. But the declines have resumed. . . .
Chemical engineer here.  If there was a way to react C or CO2 and water at relatively low temperatures and get oil we would have been doing it for decades now.  If you like you can get some chalk and water, put it in your oven at 500 degrees for a year or two, and see if you get any oil.
Chemical engineer here, too.

The experiment I referred to entailed taking a mixture of iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and water and then subjecting it to a pressure of (as best I can recall) something like 50 Kbar (which is roughly 740,000 psi and a temperature of something like 1,000 degrees C. (Hardly the conditions in my oven!)

They claim to have produced a number of low-molecular weight hdyrocarbons by doing this.

I will try to relocate the website and post the link.

I am in no position to  judge the validity of the experiment, but if they actually did what they claim to have done, then it perhaps raises some questions as to what is really going on 'down there'.

Go ChemE's. I wouldn't believe anything posted on the web unless it's been at least peer reviewed and published in a reputable journal. And even then, I'd read it very carefully.

Here's the skinny about why I'm very skeptical. There's this thing called smelting, where you put iron oxide (or any other metal oxides) in contact with carbon containing material (usually pure carbon) and subject it to high temperatures. The carbon subsequently "sucks" the oxygen off the metal oxide, producing carbon dioxide and reducing the metal oxide. I have a hard time imagining why a system like what they're describing wouldn't head in that direction over long periods of time. Do the base thermodynamics even support the abiotic theory? This stuff should be pretty easy to pretty since all you have to do is look at the gibbs free energy, right?

The smelting of iron ore (mostly iron oxides) is a classic oxidation/reduction reaction and makes use of reduced carbon, such as in the form of coke.  The reduced elemental carbon gets oxidized to carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, while the iron in the oxide form gets reduced to elemental iron.

However, in the case of the subject experiment, the carbon is already in the oxidized form, as a carbonate. So, I'm not sure what is really going on, but it's not obvious that it is a smelting of the iron oxide.

For the carbon to be reduced, something has to be oxidized.  The obvious candidate is the iron; it can go from the ferrous state as FeO to the ferric state, Fe2O3.

The big question is how stable the hydrocarbons would be under those temperatures and pressures.  If they couldn't come up to shallower depths without being cracked to gas and/or reducing ferric iron back to ferrous, the possibility of instant formation of hydrocarbons doesn't mean that the phenomenon is part of a credible model of oil formation.

Isn't most of the iron in earth's crust already in the ferric (i.e., most oxidized) state?  And if the iron oxide used in that experiment were also in the ferric state, then how can that iron oxide become further oxidized to serve as a reducing agent?  The only way the iron oxide could act as a reducing agent is if it were in the less oxidized ferrous state.  Unfortunately, I don't think that paper says which form the iron oxide was in.  Rather than being a reducing agent, could it be possible that the iron oxide in the  experiment functions instead as some sort of a catalyst?  Just reaching here.

You do make a very good point: even if hydrocarbons can be produced abiotically under the extreme conditions of pressure near the interface of the earth's mantle and crust, how do those hydrocarbons survive the lower pressure (and thus less thermodynamically favorable) conditions as they migrate to the surface without being converted to methane, the most thermodynamically stable hydrocarbon (if I recall correctly).  

While it's been very interesting dabbling into the question of abiotic oil, I am beginning to come to the conclusion that no one really quite knows what is going on 'way down there'.

I too like to go to peer-reviewed published literature for a first cut at thinking about these problems. That doesn't mean the results are correct, of course, but it is a layer of filtering beyond a post on a random website. Interestingly enough, the paper referred to above was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious scientific journals.  Again, that doesn't mean the result is correct, or that the limited experimental results imply a massive source of abiotic oil.
Have to look at the experiment.  The only way they get those pressures is to use a hydraulic press, which means they were working with miniscule yields from tiny quantities of reactants.  The slightest oil contamination would throw the whole results off.
There is a lot of OIL around a big Hydraulic presses. Just think the experiment gets its oil from the seapages from someone's bad skin oil problem.  

 Okay someone out there, repeat the process.

 COLD FUSION anyone?


 Someone is bound to get it PROVEN true.

Diamond anvil presses do not normally use hydraulics. Amazingly they can get the enormous pressure the produce by leverage from a hand tightened screw acting on a very small area.
If they used a diamond anvil they would have to have performed the experiment in a sealed atmosphere, probably nitrogen.  They would be working with milligram quantities of reactant with low yields.  If you live in an urban setting, the ambient atmosphere can have 9-10 ppm of hydrocarbons.  Even in the country, there is a background of about 5 ppm of various alkanes and alkenes.  It would be a damned hard experiment.
The theory of abiotic oil in no way refutes peak oil because the concept of peak oil is not based on the origin of oil.

Hubbert's peak is not based on geologic nor economic theory.  Hubbert studied production, discovery, and reserve data for various fields and regions and eventually to the data for the entire continental U.S.  He was able to fit an empirical curve to these data and use the equation of the curve to predict the peak of U.S. production in 1970.  

The decline in the rate of production after about one-half the oil has been produced observed in individual fields, the continental U.S., the North Slope, the North Sea, and elsewhere demonstrates that the rate of replacement is very slow relative to the rate of production. For practical purposes we can regard the total amount of oil to be finite.  It makes no difference if the oil were created by biotic or abiotic means.  (Conventional oil generation theory recoginizes that it takes several million years to create an oil field.)

Peak oil predictions are about a coming decline in the possible rate of production, not about the absolute end of oil.  The differences between declining production and the end of oil are subtile, but important and are not widely understood by the general public.  The theory of abiotic oil is a convenient place to hang false hopes for those who do not understand the concepts of peak oil and for those who choose not to believe it.

Keep talking like that, and the Oil Fairy won't leave a can of 10W30 under your pillow once peak oil hits.
The differences between declining production and the end of oil are subtle ... and not widely understood by the general public.

Which is why calling it "Peak Oil" is a bad idea.

Something more graphic might be: End of Our Petro MainLine

Although I cannot comment on the logic of the theory abiotic oil, it seems that it make no difference to the problem of peak oil.  Oil creation and oil availability are two different things and oil creation however it occurs does not make more oil available as exploration and drilling technology have their constraints.  

On the other hand if deep drilling technology improves it would make geothermal more practical

I guess the abiotic oil types dont believe that oil and coal come from similar sources since fossils are common in coal.

I think abiotic is still in the **pre-theory** state as far as a scientific process goes.  Where to put it in the process I don't know.

 But to call it a THEORY gives it far to much credit.  

 The General Public has very little clue about these things, They almost always assume that a "Theory" is forever proven never to be wrong, even though we know that is only for a "LAW".

 Just my 3.123 cents worth, adjusted for inflation.


I found that technical paper on a chemical thermodynamic analysis of oil formation and also including the results of the experiment I cited  involving iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and water under extremely high pressure.

The paper is co-authored by J.F. Kenney, Vladimir Kutcherov, et al.

The website link is almost as long as the title and is as follows:


The analysis is beyond my meager and very rust thermodynamic capabilities, so I'm not in a position to judge it as an expert. But I'd be interested to see what some of you out there think about it.

Drat! The website link I tried to include in my very last post was so long that it appears half of it got cut off when I posted it.

Got to go for now.... will try to fish it out again later.

Go Here.

It's posted on the National Acadamy of Sciences web-page, I think.

It's an interesting article, although I wish they had spent more time discussing their experimental set-up. The first third of the paper is devoted to discussing some basic thermodynamics, the middle third is devoted to explaining how recent developments in statistical thermodynamics (which I'm taking a class on this term) allowed them to more accurately describe what's occuring in the system and the last third is describing the experimental data.

Still, I have no clue if this paper is high quality work or not. sigh

I agree.

I'd like to see similar experiments done by other people produce similar results. Then, I'd feel more comfortable with it.

When you're dealing with extreme conditions and small quanities of materials, it is easy to mess up and get misleading results. I'm also a bit concerned about how they went about 'quenching' the reaction to 'freeze' the reaction products in a certain thermodynamic state. That would also appear just a bit tricky for something like this.

Mind you, if the results are for real, they don't disprove peak oil, but only show that it might be possible to produce hydrocarbons abiotically under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure.

Furthermore, it should be obvious that just because the earth was able to (perhaps) produce hydrocarbons in this manner, doesn't mean that we've found a new way of making oil from water and chalk.  Creating pressures of over 100,000 psi and temperatures of over 1,000 degrees C to produce gram-quantities of hydrocarbons does not appear to be a very promising avenue for 'making' oil. Can you just imagine trying to scale something like that up to a commercial size! I bet the ratio of required energy input to energy produced would be well over 1,000.

On one reading the following jumped out at me:

  1. The first part says that long chain alkanes cannot be produced from highly oxidized biotic molecules, eg carbohydrates.  Probably right, but this says nothing about production from fats, which are triglycerides, and not highly oxidized.  Buried plant matter, mostly cellulose, turns into coal; buried trilobites turn into oil.

  2. The second part I don't know about on one reading.  But property predictions from statistics in a high pressure regime is dangerous.

  3. As others have said, somebody would have to repeat their experiment.  Even given their results, to believe in abiotic oil someone would have to explain how all the carbonate rock and water got into the mantle.
I thought oil was mostly produced from diatoms and cyanobacteria? Still, not a lot of celluslose in those beasts.

I don't know enough about Stat Thermo to really comment. I recognized that what the were talking about was a partition function, but don't know anything about that particular one. From what I've learned so far, statistical thermo if very useful in describing systems not normally handled by classical therm. I'm not sure why you need statistical thermo to describe what seems like a classical situation.

My understanding is that they used a carbonate so as to quell concerns that the hydrocarbon signals they were getting were from bona fide synthesis, rather than contaminants. Essentially, they could've used carbon but chose not to.


I really don't think the paper is written well enough to be definitive. One thing in particular that I don't like is that while they describe the ratio of different fractions of organics created, they don't actually describe the amount of organics created. To me, that just seems odd and sort of implys that the amount of material supposedly generated was low enough that it would be easy to propose the counter argument that they were detecting comtaminants in their sample.

Well, the Japanese seem tired of their own brand of snake oil. The Asahi newspaper today has a long piece on how the elite have woken up to the problems with their complacent reliance on the Middle East as supplier. For a long while, their assumption was that it was too costly and so on to try looking for and developing oil resources on their own. Hence the willingness to get 90% of their suplies from the Saudis and other ME countries. But now they're merging their oil firms and going after supplies themselves. The oil people here usually trash Simmons' book, but maybe a few of them bothered to read it.

In any event, bit late to get in the discovery game now, no? Maybe Koizumi and his clown troupe have also read the abiotic oil book and plan to buy up a slew of depleted wells and wait for them to recharge...

I wondered if there are any academic publications on abiotic oil from reputable peer-reviewed academic journals. Quick answer: if there are any, they are hard to find.

Did a quick search on the GeoRef Database from the American Geological Institute, which covers the field from 1785 to date, indexing 3500 publications in 40 languages. It has 786 articles using the word "abiotic," which drops to only 21 articles contining both "abiotic" and "oil." 20 of these seem to be off-topic. There is one conference paper, McCollom and Seewold 1999, "Rapid equilibration of CO2 and formate under hydrothermal conditions (with a comment on the abiotic synthesis of hydrocarbons during serpentinization)". A quote from the abstract:

"Berndt et al. (Geology, 1996) previously reported the reduction of CO2 to methane (plus higher hydrocarbons) in similar experiments. Contrary to the conclusions of Berndt et al., we find no evidence for synthesis of hydrocarbons. That is, although we did observe hydrocarbon generation similar to that of Berndt et al., isotopic labeling and blank experiments indicate that the most likely source of the observed hydrocarbons is decomposition of trace contaminants rather than abiotic synthesis." This is the only direct reference I found, and it isn't very direct.

We can conclude from this that if there is any good scientific evidence for abiotic oil, the scientists have apparently decided to keep it to themselves.

Yes, I know what a diamond anvil is. In fact, I may be using one in my research. The issue here is that 100 km down in the crust, the conditions they created in their test apparatus are EVERYWHERE. So in theory, if the abiotic synthesis of oil were possible, you'd be creating small quantities of oil all over the place, and over several billion years, the quantities would start to add up.
This sort of bilge gets ink because we have institutionalized the idea that there are always two sides to every story. We believe in Peak Oil, there must be a refutation. That refutation must be reported for "balance," according to this type of journalism.

I understand that a reporter normally does not hold himself out to be an expert, even if he or she is one, by virtue of having worked a particular beat for a long time and learned a great deal about it. The reporter must quote others, find other points of view, never impose his or her bias on the reader or viewer.

The literal minded way in which journalistic guidelines are too often applied, allows the press to be used and the public to be bombarded with nonsense all too often. A good reporter, knows bilge for what it is and either fails to report it, or gives it the shortest possible shrift. One can say, for example, this argument exists, and this is why 95% of geologists don't buy it. That would be exposing viewers to all arguments while applying discrimination that serves the news consumer.

This sort of bilge gets ink because we have institutionalized the idea that there are always two sides to every story. We believe in Peak Oil, there must be a refutation. That refutation must be reported for "balance," according to this type of journalism.

I understand that a reporter normally does not hold himself out to be an expert, even if he or she is one, by virtue of having worked a particular beat for a long time and learned a great deal about it. The reporter must quote others, find other points of view, never impose his or her bias on the reader or viewer.

The literal minded way in which journalistic guidelines are too often applied, allows the press to be used and the public to be bombarded with nonsense all too often. A good reporter, knows bilge for what it is and either fails to report it, or gives it the shortest possible shrift. One can say, for example, this argument exists, and this is why 95% of geologists don't buy it. That would be exposing viewers to all arguments while applying discrimination that serves the news consumer.

What we are witnessing here is the demise of responsible journalism.

Laziness, greed and the rush for a scoop intice the so-called journalists of our "new-age" to accept any and all stories without doing a background check. In their eyes, a baloney-artist (sp?) like Craig Smith stands on equal footing with highly credentialed geoligists like Hubbert, Deffeys, etc.

(Granted Matt Simmons is not a credentialed geologist, but he is someone who challenges the lack of auditable reserve numbers, rather than a person who "fabricates" numbers and happy talk out of thin air)

How do the proponents of abiotic hydrocarbons explain the scarcity of carbon in the output of volcanoes?

If we have any hope of pumping millions of barrels from these deep deposits, then places like Yellowstone or Hawaii should be spewing hydrocarbons in greater quantities. As it is, the carbon seems more likely to show up as diamonds.