Abiotic oil : hydrocarbons in ancient rocks


Richard Moore


Really ancient oil -- and abundant life 

Geologists usually don't bother looking for oil in very
ancient (Precambrian) rocks for two reasons:

    Conventional wisdom insists that oil is derived almost
    exclusively from organic matter, and additional conventional
    wisdom assures us that life was exceedingly scarce on earth
    billions of years ago.
    Any oil that was created billions of years ago would have
    surely been destroyed by intense pressures and high
    temperatures over the eons.

Yet, Precambrian oil in commercial quantities has been found
in formations up to 2 billion years old (in Siberia,
Australia, Michigan, for example). While some of this oil
might have migrated in-to the Precambrian rocks from younger
source rocks, some of it does seem indigenous and, therefore,


Now, three Australian scientists (R. Buick, B. Rasmussen, B.
Krapez) have discovered tiny nodules of bitumen (lumps of
hydrocarbons) in sedimentary rocks up to 3.5 billion years old
in Africa and Australia. These bitumen nodules were formed
when natural hydrocarbons were irradiated by radioactive
isotopes that coexisted in the ancient rocks. Futhermore,
these African and Australian rock formations were never
severely deformed or subjected to high temperatures. The
possibility exists, therefore, that some of the earth's oldest
rocks may contain substantial oil reserves. So far, no one has
seriously looked for oil in Precambrian rocks because of the
two preconceptions noted above.

(Palmer, Douglas; "Any Old Oil?" New Scientist , p.22, March
14, 1998.)

Comments . Large quantities of oil and bitumen 3.5 billion
years old have profound implications. Far from being lifeless,
the most ancient of our planet's seas may have been thick
soups of bacteria and other simple life forms. So much
terrestrial life so soon after the formation of the earth
could imply that there was an extraterrestrial inoculation of
biotic material that gave terrestrial life a jump start --
assuming that this ancient oil and bitumen are truly biogenic!
The possible (and highly anomalous) abiotic origin of oil and
natural gas are covered in some depth in Anomalies in Geology

From Science Frontiers #119, SEP-OCT 1998 . © 1998-2000 William R. Corliss 


"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

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