Oil. Some of the everyday uses are obvious. We use oil as fuel for heating and transportation, we make plastics and textiles from oil, and many common medications such as A.S.A. are also made from petroleum. The dependency on oil by modern society is likely understood only to a small degree by many of us. Sure, we all “think” we know how dependent we are on the black gold, but most of us likely underestimate it.
Another misunderstanding about oil, as it turns out, seems to be its origin. For the past 250 years or so, we have all believed the biogenic theory that oil is produced by dead organic matter. However, a new theory as to the origin of oil has surfaced called the abiogenic theory. The theory’s adherents believe that oil originated as carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas rising through the deep layers of the Earth’s crust. If this mixture was lucky enough to find zirconium-containing minerals, it could react and produce petroleum hydrocarbons, meaning that the earth naturally, and continuously, produces oil. In fact, it would seem that three Swedish researchers have proven not only that oil is produced abiogenically, but that the whole idea of it being a fossil fuel is false.
But wait, like so many other issues of great significance, not everyone agrees with this newly formed theory. One of the so called facts that are supposed to prove the abiogenic theory is that previously capped “dry” oil wells have been reopened due to regeneration…but not so fast. Apparantly, most of these wells were capped when oil extraction percentages were somewhere around 35%. Newer technology and pumping techniques now allow for 65% extraction or more…thus explaining the so called regeneration.
Ridiculing new science and theories is not a new phenomenom…after all, the world was once considered to be flat, and the poor schmo that had the audacity to suggest otherwise was utterly ridiculed by the scientific community of that time. So, could it be true that the earth is naturally generating crude oil with inexhaustible sources? Sure, why not! But does that really matter?
One thing that history has shown us over and over again, is that the mishandling of crude oil has detrimental effects on our environment. We all remember the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, when 11 million gallons of crude were spilled into the Prince William Sound. It’s estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales died along with billions of salmon and herring eggs. As bad as that sounds, it ranks a mere 36th on the list of the worlds worst oil spills, with the worst unintentional spill being the gulf spill in 2010, which released 206 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. The burning of petroleum products has been scientifically linked to acid rain, global warming, the production of carcinogenic byproducts, and many more environmental and health issues. Need we explore more?
So let’s go back and consider for a moment that the earth is indeed round, and that oil is produced naturally and constantly. The biggest question should be how fast is oil produced? Oil demand is in constant growth in today’s society. The need for cheap energy is directly linked to economic growth. Let’s keep in mind that our monetary system depends on constant growth to avoid collapse. The problem is, the more we grow, the greater our need for energy grows, leading to an infinite curve. The more we grow, the greater rate of energy growth we need to sustain that growth. Even if the earth is producing oil naturally, it stands to reason that the rate of production is finite, meaning that it can only produce a certain amount in a given time, regardless of how much we need.
Many proponents of abiogenic oil will argue that the whole peak oil idea is now moot. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If indeed the earth is producing oil at a rate that could survive any growth curve, why then, given the age of the earth, is it not 70% covered in oil instead of water? Also, even if the earth is replenishing oil wells, why must we cap them and wait for more oil to flow into the well? The answer to this is easy…we are using it up faster that the earth can replenish it. Wow, look at that, peak oil rears it’s ugly head again, just with a slightly different definition.
If indeed oil is produced naturally and constantly, this process has a finite rate, which means that constant economic growth, which is directly related to cheap energy, cannot be maintained. So much for the end of peak oil!