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Saturday, November 10, 2007


This is part of an article by Freeman Dyson - the whole article is well worth reading but the particular part I want to highlight is about whether natural gas & oil is entirely or possibly even largely created from compressed sea life, in which case the amount must be limited 7 we will hit peak oil at some stage in the foreseeable future, or whether it comes from natural forces & pressures deep underground, in which case quantities must be effectively unlimited. There is some evidence for the latter at least playing a part - oil fields which refill themselves from presumably deeper sources & finding the stuff in the relatively rare occasions when people drill for it in places where the conventional theory says it shouldn't be.

Tommy Gold promoted another heretical idea, that the oil and natural gas in the ground come up from deep in the mantle of the earth and have nothing to do with biology. Again the experts are sure that he is wrong, and he did not live long enough to change their minds. Just a few weeks before he died, some chemists at the Carnegie Institution in Washington did a beautiful experiment in a diamond anvil cell, [Scott et al., 2004]. They mixed together tiny quantities of three things that we know exist in the mantle of the earth, and observed them at the pressure and temperature appropriate to the mantle about two hundred kilometers down. The three things were calcium carbonate which is sedimentary rock, iron oxide which is a component of igneous rock, and water. These three things are certainly present when a slab of subducted ocean floor descends from a deep ocean trench into the mantle. The experiment showed that they react quickly to produce lots of methane, which is natural gas. Knowing the result of the experiment, we can be sure that big quantities of natural gas exist in the mantle two hundred kilometers down. We do not know how much of this natural gas pushes its way up through cracks and channels in the overlying rock to form the shallow reservoirs of natural gas that we are now burning. If the gas moves up rapidly enough, it will arrive intact in the cooler regions where the reservoirs are found. If it moves too slowly through the hot region, the methane may be reconverted to carbonate rock and water. The Carnegie Institute experiment shows that there is at least a possibility that Tommy Gold was right and the natural gas reservoirs are fed from deep below. The chemists sent an E-mail to Tommy Gold to tell him their result, and got back a message that he had died three days earlier. Now that he is dead, we need more heretics to take his place.

If this chemistry works & it clearly does it is highly improbable if there isn't quite a bit of geological oil out there.

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