Short-term efforts[ edit ] Concept diagram of underwater oil containment domes originally planned for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
From the start, there were those who contended that oil is primordial - that it dates back to Earth's origin - or that it is made through Debate on alaska oil essay inorganic process, while others argued that it was produced from the decay of living organisms primarily oceanic plankton that proliferated millions of years ago during relatively brief periods of global warming and were buried under ocean sediment in fortuitous circumstances.
During the latter half of the 20th century, with advances in geophysics and geochemistry, the vast majority of scientists lined up on the side of the biotic theory. A small group of mostly Russian scientists - but including a tiny handful Western scientists, among them the late Cornell University physicist Thomas Gold - have held out for an abiotic also called abiogenic or inorganic theory.
While some of the Russians appear to regard Gold as a plagiarist of their ideas, the latter's book The Deep Hot Biosphere stirred considerable controversy among the public on the questions of where oil comes from and how much of it there is.
Gold argued that hydrocarbons existed at the time of the solar system's formation, and are known to be abundant on other planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and some of their moons where no life is presumed to have flourished in the past.
The abiotic theory holds that there must therefore be nearly limitless pools of liquid primordial hydrocarbons at great depths on Earth, pools that slowly replenish the reservoirs that conventional oil drillers tap. Meanwhile, however, the oil companies have used the biotic theory as the practical basis for their successful exploration efforts over the past few decades.
If there are in fact vast untapped deep pools of hydrocarbons refilling the reservoirs that oil producers drill into, it appears to make little difference to actual production, as tens of thousands of oil and gas fields around the world are observed to deplete, and refilling which is indeed very rarely observed is not occurring at a commercially significant scale or rate except in one minor and controversial instance discussed below.
The abiotic theorists also hold that conventional drillers, constrained by an incorrect theory, ignore many sites where deep, primordial pools of oil accumulate; if only they would drill in the right places, they would discover much more oil than they are finding now. However, the tests of this claim are so far inconclusive: Thus even if the abiotic theory does eventually prove to be partially or wholly scientifically valid and that is a rather big "if"it might have little or no practical consequence in terms of oil depletion and the imminent global oil production peak.
That is the situation in a nutshell, as I understand it, and it is probably as much information as most readers will need or want on this subject. However, as this summary contradicts some of the more ambitious claims of the abiotic theorists, it may be helpful to present in more detail some of the evidence and arguments on both sides of the debate.
Oil at the Core? Why shouldn't we expect to find primordial hydrocarbons on Earth? This is a question whose answer is only partly understood, and it is a complicated one. The planets known to have primordial hydrocarbons mostly in the form of methane, the simplest hydrocarbon lie in the further reaches of the solar system; there is little evidence of primordial hydrocarbons on the rocky inner planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.
On the latter, possibly the hydrocarbons either volatized and escaped into space early in the history of the solar system, or - as Gold theorizes - they migrated to the inner depths.
A new study by the US Department of Energy and Lawrence Livermore Lab suggests that there may be huge methane deposits in Earth's mantle, 60 to miles deep. Moreover, the DOE study attributes the methane deposits it hypothesizes to an origin different from the one Gold described.
More to the point, Gold also claimed the existence of liquid hydrocarbons - oil - at great depths. But there is a problem with this: What remains after these molecular bonds are severed is methane, whose molecule contains only a single carbon atom.
For petroleum geologists this is not just a matter of theory, but of repeated and sometimes costly experience: The rare exceptions serve to prove the rule: And, indeed, nearly all of the oil that has been discovered over the past century-and-a-half is associated with sedimentary rocks.
In the very rare instances where small amounts of hydrocarbons are seen in igneous or metamorphic rocks, the latter are invariably found near hydrocarbon-bearing sedimentary rocks, and the hydrocarbons in both types of rock contain identical biomarkers more on that subject below ; the simplest explanation in those cases is that the hydrocarbons migrated from the sedimentary rocks to the igneous-metamorphic rocks.
Years ago Thomas Gold recognized that the best test of the abiotic theory would be to drill into the crystalline basement rock underlying later sedimentary accumulations to see if there is indeed oil there.
He persuaded the government of Sweden in to drill 4. The borehole, which cost millions to drill, yielded 80 barrels of oil. Even though the project briefly re-started in was a commercial failure, Gold maintained that his ideas had been vindicated.
Most geologists remained skeptical, however, suggesting that the recovered oil likely came from drilling mud. The Russians I must remind the reader that I am actually talking about a minority even with the community of Russian geologists claim successes in drilling in basement rock in the Dneiper-Donets Basin in the Ukraine.
The eleven major and one giant oil and gas fields here described have been discovered in a region which had, forty years ago, been condemned as possessing no potential for petroleum production.
The exploration for these fields was conducted entirely according to the perspective of the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of abyssal, abiotic petroleum origins. The drilling which resulted in these discoveries was extended purposely deep into the crystalline basement rock, and it is in that basement where the greatest part of the reserves exist.
These reserves amount to at least 8, M metric tons [65 billion barrels] of recoverable oil and B cubic meters of recoverable gas, and are thereby comparable to those of the North Slope of Alaska. Second, the appearance of oil in basement rocks is unusual but not unheard of, and there are various ways in which oil can appear in basement rock.
In the process of drilling through overlying sedimentary rock, oil can be expelled downward so that it appears to come from below. Then there are situations where igneous or metamorphic rocks have migrated upward, or sedimentary rocks have migrated downward, so that basement rock covers sedimentary rock in some cases, the overthrust may be hundreds of square kilometers in extent.
Abiotic theorists often point out evidence of fields refilling. The most-cited example is Eugene Island, the tip of a mostly submerged mountain that lies approximately 80 miles off of the coast of Louisiana.
Here is the story as related by Chris Bennett in his article "Sustainable Oil? A significant reservoir of crude oil was discovered nearby in the late '60s, and bya platform named Eugene was busily producing about 15, barrels a day of high-quality crude oil.In November , a draft report by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that all of the coastal plain within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be opened for oil and gas development.
It also proposed to trade the mineral rights of , acres (67, ha) in the refuge for surface rights to , acres (, ha) owned by corporations of six Alaska native groups. The debate over oil's origin has been going on since the 19th century.
From the start, there were those who contended that oil is primordial - that it dates back to Earth's origin - or that it is made through an inorganic process, while others argued that it was produced from the decay of living. Parnell wrote Alaska Can Meet U.S Energy Needs, and in the article stated; “Right now, too much of our oil comes from unstable regimes hostile to the United States—some of what we spend on Middle Eastern oil ends up funding global terrorist operations.
The table below presents an abbreviated geologic time scale, with times and events germane to this essay. Please refer to a complete geologic time scale when this one seems inadequate. The Energy Racket.
By Wade Frazier. Revised in June Introduction and Summary. A Brief Prehistory of Energy and Life on Earth. Early Civilization, Energy and the Zero-Sum Game. The debate over whether to drill for oil in Alaska has been ongoing for a long time.
Drilling in Alaska would allow the United States to become more self-reliant in regards to energy, with less need to depend on sources outside of the country.
In addition, oil drilling in Alaska would also bring.