Conventional wisdom had it for a long time that oil and gas was formed from the remains of plants and animals buried millions of years ago. Now we know that oil and gas can be formed abiotically through subterranean heat and pressure, and that the Earth contains a virtually endless supply – oil is the new ‘renewable’ energy.
Yesterday’s oil industry conference in Dallas precipitated a new war of words between OPEC and the Russian and Canadian oil field operators. It appears to be a fight to the death for shrinking petroleum markets. Fuel cell futures have collapsed and the platinum price has reached its lowest level in 15 years.
In Saudi Arabia a state of emergency was declared after weeks of rioting. Tens of thousands of immigrant workers who had been dismissed from their jobs are demanding to be sent home, primarily to Pakistan and India. Locals are said to be queueing up to enrol in extremist organizations and the police seem to have lost control of some of the main centres.
Read the full story in the detailed Analysis/Synthesis section
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Oil comprises 85% carbon, 13% hydrogen and 0.5% oxygen with traces of sulphur and nitrogen. Most chemists used to believe it originated from the decomposition of organic matter – layers formed from the remains of dead animals. Hence the name ‘fossil fuel’. By definition its source was limited.
That theory was plausible when oil wells were drilled into the fossil layers of the Earth’s crust; but if oil comes from ‘basement rock’, a mile underground, it is well below the fossil layer.
Despite conventional wisdom around fossil fuels, the argument for non-biologically produced oil was not a new one. In 1951, the Russian scientist N.A Kudryavtsev, announced the theory that deep petroleum was produced abiotically. His theories were consolidated with the exploration of the oil fields of Dneiper-Donets in the early 1990s.
World-renowned geologist, C Warren Hunt’s ‘Anhydride’ theory of 1996, asserted the idea of biogenesis from living microbial forms, as opposed to fossilized forms.
If oil is constantly replenishing, why should it run out?
2002: World’s biggest oil reserves discovered
The Athabasca Oil Sands Deposit in Northeastern Alberta, Canada, is found to be the largest source of petroleum in the world. Beneath Alberta’s tar sands, at a depth of 7,200 ft, is the world’s largest hydrocarbon deposit. Estimates believe the fields to hold 1.7 trillion barrels of oil.
2003: Cracks appear in fossil fuel reasoning
People begin to wonder if the Earth’s quantities of oil and gas were much bigger than they had previously estimated – and whether supplies could be constantly replenished.
Some scientists start to speculate that petroleum could originate ‘abiotically’ from minerals at extreme temperature and pressure. The idea is that high temperature and pressure close to the Earth’s mantle allow petroleum to form inorganically, rather than through biological degradation. Water forces it to the surface, as it has a greater density; the oil rises and gets trapped in layers of impermeable, sedimentary rocks.
Scientists working at the Gas Resources Corporation, Houston, mimick conditions more than 100km below the Earth’s surface, by heating marble, iron oxide and water to around 1,500°C and to 50,000 times the atmospheric pressure. The theory withstands tests put to it and settles many previously unresolved problems in petroleum science.
The White Tiger Fields off the coast of Vietnam (discovered in the 1970s) become the centre of scientific attention as exploration companies drill for oil a mile into solid granite – deeper than ever before and way below the known fossil deposits. They start producing 338 000 barrels of oil per day. These new ‘non fossil’ fields are estimated to hold a further 600 million barrels.
Fortune Magazine runs their ‘Oil without end?’ article.
2005: New tests prove validity of ‘non-fossil’ claims
Extensive geological investigations by Shell and BP, and presented at (scientific smposium) in New York confirm that the source of new-found oil reserves is “not fossil”!
US oil production plummets sharply as the effect of lower prices turns into economic realities.
2006: Russian oil price wobble
This has been a bad year for oil. Not only have the theories of vast untapped reserves of oil been proven to be true, but Russian and Canadian producers have taken the unwritten laws of OPEC into their own hands by cutting the effective market price of oil to around US$15 a barrel. In an attempt to take an early competitive position against the anticipated future price of oil, they have established themselves as the supplier-of-choice for European business and alienated the OPEC cartel.
The US is torn between traditional loyalties to Saudi Arabia (and, by implication, OPEC), their European business allies and their new best friend, Russia.
OPEC Holds onto their new US$25 price level but demand for OPEC oil is dwindling as Canadian reserves start to open up.
2008: Political turbulence in Saudi Arabia
As oil prices have fallen, Saudi Arabia’s massive immigrant population has been encouraged to return to the Indian sub-continent as Saudis clamour for jobs. Young Saudis, now poorer than ever and with little chance of employment, seek alliances with extreme radical movements. Everyone is the enemy: the State, the King and America.
The Norwegian economy, almost 50% of it still dependent on oil-related industries, declares itself to be heading for bankruptcy.
2010: Mid East terrorism spreads world-wide
Internal terrorism sweeps the Middle East as oil economies falter, creating substantial economic, political and social instability in the whole region.
American embassies are shut down as America switches completely to Canadian and Russian oil.
Major terrorist attacks in San Francisco and London’s Mayfair.
2013: UN intervenes to create oil price stability
The airline industry loses half its passengers in just 12 months. International tourism implodes. Amidst desparate negotiations to stall seemingly uncontrollable terrorism, the UN passes a resolution calling for a US$15 minimum oil price. Targeted to bring balance to the world economic system, the resolution is passed with few abstentions.
2015: World settles into energy glut
Motor vehicles alone made up more than 50% of oil consumption in 2000, now that has declined to 25%. Access to massive reservoirs of hydrogen in the earth’s crust has given fuel cell technology an unexpected boost over the past few years. With the new ‘fixed’ oil price, governments step in to support fuel cell industries and prevent future oil blackmail.
2020: The end of the Oil Era
Half of all cars sold use alternate fuel sources. The world has broken the back of its dependence on oil.
Some Middle East countries now have thriving non-oil economies.
An international crack-down on terrorism has paid massive benefits.
Some sense of normality returns to the world economy.