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Al Fin

Al Fin

Al Fin runs a number of very successful blogs that cover, energy, technology, news and politics.

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Only a Small Fraction of Earth’s Oil has Been Found

Scientists have known for quite a while that most of Earth's oil came from vast numbers of oceanic microscopic organisms -- rather than from dead dinosaurs. From diatoms to micro-algae to cyanobacteria and more, these microscopic life forms thrived on warmer seas and higher levels of atmospheric CO2 than are presently available to sea life. Many of these sea creatures are capable of converting gaseous or dissolved CO2 directly into oils and hydrocarbons of various types, and would cheerfully welcome much higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and in the oceans, if only they could get it.

Crude Oil Formation

Geologists scour the planet for the sedimentary basins of ancient seas, in order to find the vast deposits of oil, gas, and other hydrocarbons still waiting to be discovered. Humans may have used perhaps one tenth of exploitable oil deposits, but Al Fin engineers reckon we have used only about one one hundredth. Not that oil is an ideal energy source. Far from it. But we should know that we are quite far from running out -- even while we are discovering how to grow these tiny organisms for ourselves, to produce a wide range of materials, feeds, and fuels at the time and place of our own choosing.

Some of the ancestral waters that made the planet’s oil still exist, like the Gulf of Mexico, while others have long vanished, like the ocean that produced the massive oil fields of the Middle East. The bodies come and go because the earth’s crust, through seemingly rigid, actually moves a great deal over geologic time, tearing apart continents and ocean basins and rearranging them like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The secret of the oil story turned out to be understanding how the bygone oceans, ancient seas and smaller bodies of water produced complex environmental conditions that raised the prevalence of microscopic life and ensured its deep burial, producing what eventually became the earth’s main oil reservoirs.

The clues accumulated over more than a century and included discoveries from geology, chemistry and paleontology. An early indication was that petroleum discoveries were always associated with ancient beds of sedimentary rock — the kind that forms when debris rains down through water for ages and slowly grows into thick seabed layers.

...The process typically starts in warm seas ideal for the incubation of microscopic life. The sheer mass is hard to imagine. But scientists note that every drop of seawater contains more than a million tiny organisms.

Oil production begins when surface waters become so rich in microscopic life that the rain of debris outpaces decay on the seabed. The result is thickening accumulations of biologic sludge.

...“The organics got buried quickly because of the heavy sediment flow,” Dr. Tinker said. “So they didn’t get biodegraded as quickly. You preserved the organic richness.”

He said the flow was so heavy that the growing accumulations keep pressing the lower sediment layers deeper into the earth, forcing them into hot zones where the organic material got transformed into oil. The process involves a long series of chemical reactions that slowly turn life molecules into inanimate crude.

“The gulf has miles and miles of sediments,” he said. “So that gets the source rocks down into the kitchen where they cook.”

The standard temperature for oil formation is between 120 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit.

...Many countries and oil companies are now racing to exploit the geological happenstance of deep coastal waters. Hot spots include offshore areas of Angola, Azerbaijan, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Libya and Tanzania, while countries like Canada and Norway, which have long pursued offshore drilling, are pushing ahead with new plans. Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting firm, estimates that global deepwater extraction could roughly double by 2015, the output rivaling what Saudi Arabia produces on land. _NYT

The new offshore oil fields coming on line will rival Saudi Arabian production -- even if the Saudis decide to ramp up their production even higher than at present.


But many more giant fields await discovery until geologists develop better tools to find ancient ocean basins lying beneath subsequent overlaying deposits of seismic and volcanic upheaval. Earth's warm water sea floors have been turned around a great deal over the past billions of years. It is likely that we have not yet found the richest fossil fuel fields.

For most of the planet, geologists simply do not have a clue what lies beneath. They will need far better tools than the primitive seismic, electromagnetic, and other tools which currently limit their vision. But those tools are coming. And those vast unknown deposits will be found, if they are ever needed.

By. Al Fin

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  • Anonymous on August 07 2010 said:
    Sorry, but I don't believe any of this. If I remember correctly, Professor _____ came out with the crazy conclusion that oil resources were 'renewable' to some degree, and this has the same smell. And of course if CERA is involved, it doesn't deserve to be called moonshine.Even if the author were absolutely correct, I don't intend to accept his message, and I hope that nobody else does.Consider the time factor. We might need large quantities of oil in the near future,and not after certain tools arrive, and cab be used in some kind of exploration circus whose primary purpose is to turn millionaires into billionaires.
  • Anonymous on August 07 2010 said:
    I have spent way to much to pouring over siesmigraphs to believe this.Also I have been working in the oil fields since I was a boy.There are lots of pockets of oil out there but they are not viable to recover at $80 per barrel. Most of them would not be viable at $500 per barrel and are quite small say the size of you house or smaller. So on paper there is a lot of oil, in reality no there is not, we are going to be in a world of hurt within the next 5 years.To prepare for less is epic foolishness.Red
  • Anonymous on August 08 2010 said:
    I guess these huge deposits are incredibly cagey and sneaky because nobody is finding them. Not only is undersea exploitation bound to result in eventual poisoning of the seas, the biggest source of food and oxygen on this planet, but really big finds are just not occurring anymore. The US alone uses 23+ million 42 gallon barrels of petroleum per day, so even a billion barrel strike would be expressed in mere days of US demand. With world demand at 100+ million barrels per day, and climbing,it's going to take a few discoveries the size of Saudi Arabia before we can say with any certainty that the end of oil is already in view, albiet a ways off in the distance.
  • Anonymous on August 08 2010 said:
    Thomas Kuhn pointed out that the old-timers have to die off before the younger generation can finally acknowledge what had been staring all of them in the face the whole time.Old-time energy economists and oil geologists will probably not live long enough to understand where they have gone wrong. But that is the way of things, the natural blindness of the so-called "expert."Now a new generation of experts will have to grow up to exploit the massive new opportunities which the old and dying experts refused to comprehend. That is natural, and to be expected.The new experts will have to learn to read the history of the Earth farther back than ever, and will need to use tools far beyond those their predecessors dreamed. In reality, we have just begun.
  • Anonymous on August 09 2010 said:
    The person who wrote this is blind. The cost of new off-shore drilling just skyrocketed with the Gulf debacle. BP almost bankrupted itself. And unless oil gets way over $100 p barrel, they won't even think about exploratory drilling offshore. There may be lots of smaller fields around the Earths surface but none is commercially viable. Withthe current oil glut oil is far too cheap to make exploration worth risking. I wouldn't be suprised if BP sabotaged their own drilling op in the Gulf to get out of a losing venture. We will be dependant on ME and Russian oil for a long time to come.
  • Anonymous on August 09 2010 said:
    As I told a couple of people already this morning, the dumbing down of American (and other) men is nothing less than a tragedy, but Mr Alphonso, even the most backward student that I taught energy economics in Sweden, France and Thailand would never believe the claims in this article. However, if you are an academic, just put in an appearance in a seminar or conference some day at my university, and I'll explain the world oil situation in a manner that even you will understand.
  • Anonymous on August 10 2010 said:
    Academics have their heads in, proverbial, places where the sun doesn't shine. A main reason their opinions smell awfully bad. "Peak Oil" is a classic example. The book "Limits to Growth," first published in 1972, (associated with the 'Club of Rome') predicted oil along with gold, copper, and other commodities would be depleted by 2000. Note it hasn't happened. Reality has a way of sneaking up on those making dooms-day predictions. Yet these same academics, i.e. fred banks, are quite content in ignoring the past and present real world. The university education bubble bursting can't happen soon enough...
  • Anonymous on August 10 2010 said:
    Peak oil is irrelevant, Mr Auran. When the oil price can touch 147 dollars a barrel, who cares about peaking. As for reality, my energy economics textbooks are the best selling of all energy economics books. Furthermore, if you are really waiting for the education bubble to burst, forget it. A good education at a good school is more important than ever now. Dont make the mistake of letting your children or grandchildren graduate from the kind of storefront university that I graduated from in Chicago, because to survive I had to take the liberty of finishing first in my MSc course.
  • Anonymous on August 10 2010 said:
    There was a time when I drank the peak oil koolaid of a Mr. Banks and others of that ilk. But I've learned a great deal by simply getting out in the world and looking into things on my own, instead of taking other people's word for things.That may be where academics go wrong. No real world experience or knowledge. No skills or actual competence. The rest of us need to take things into our own hands if we want a good result.
  • Anonymous on August 12 2010 said:
    The first time I heard about the "micro-organism" source of oil was a number of years ago when the owners of some old capped wells reopened some many years after they were capped (closed) and discovered that the wells had regenerated oil. They started pumping again at nearly the levels they were at at their prime. They determined that the new oil was a different age than the older oil that was previously pumped out. That is when they came up with this idea of the micro-organisms in some way regenerating the oil rather than dinos. I remember the 1970's when we were at "Peak Oil" the first time. We were in trouble we were running out of oil. And then it gushed and we didn't know what to do with all of the oil. Some of these guys have their heads in the sand. Haven't they heard about the huge finds recently in the gulf, off of Brazil, etc. Can you explain why the big oil companies after 40 years haven't come up with alternatives to oil to be able to continue their revenue streams.
  • Durwood M. Dugger on January 17 2012 said:
    I think it quite likely that oil geologist's assumption that marine micro-organism source of oil is only partially correct. Clearly the source of oil has to be living organisms, however it did not occur gradually as current theory tries to explain. Far more likely oil is a result of numerous mass extinction events that occurred in the geologic past - wiping out nearly all living things very quickly. This created organic (dead organism) deposits so great that normal decomposition could not breakup and redistribute as it does under normal conditions, and usually a source of cover material (ash and or particulate fallout) to cover them from future biological decomposition - leaving the organic residue we call petroleum.

    The more logical concept of petroleum being a mass extinction by-product also pretty much quashes the concept of continual organic deposition over time. Continual deposition is generally consumed by continual decomposition. Of course the regular and relatively frequent nature of some of these mass extinctions pretty much makes our concerns over peak oil - one of the least of our species worries.

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