Hydrocarbon Fuels Aren't Fossils

by Paul Sheridan

The Deep Hot Biosphere
Thomas Gold
New York: Copernicus, 1999
Hardcover, 235 pp., $27.00

"Gold's theories are always original, always important, usually controversial - and usually right. It is my belief, based on 50 years of observation of Gold as a friend and colleague, that the deep hot biosphere is all of the above: original, important, controversial - and right."
- From the Foreword by Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

The Deep Hot Biosphere is a culmination of more than 50 years of the life of its remarkable author, astrophysicist Thomas Gold, of Cornell University. Gold was a founding director for the Cornell University Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, chairman of Cornell's Department of Astronomy, and is the author of more than 280 papers in the areas of cosmology, zoology, physics, and astronomy.

Gold's thesis in The Deep Hot Biosphere is simple: Hydrocarbons have been in existence since the earliest times of the universe, and are part of the process of planetary formation. Their constituents, hydrogen and carbon, originated in the "primordial soup" from which Earth was formed. Earth's methane and petroleum, Gold says, are abiogenic - without biological origin.

Contrary to the currently promoted explanation, Cold says that hydrocarbons did not disso-ciate during these early times because of high temperatures of planet formation, as theorists claim. Current geological science, he shows, affirms that the temperatures were not high enough, especially when depth-related pressures are taken into account.

Gold contends that hydrocarbon sources can be found at great depths below the surface, not a few miles, but a few hundred miles. The deep-Earth sources of hydrocarbons are still wor-king to this day, pumping tons of petroleum and methane gas up through the deep Earth's cracks and pores to the shallow sedimentary levels. It is here that drilling rigs access the upwelling that has been vertically dammed into reservoirs, Gold says. Hydrocarbons did not come from rotting prehistoric plants; they were here a few billion years before life occurred.

Gold discusses the latest space research in-formation, much of which he discovered or pro-posed, which confirms that hydrocarbons are present on lifeless heavenly bodies such as moons, asteroids, comets, and, of course, the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptu-ne. In fact, the blue coloration of planet Uranus is the result of methane, a so-called fossil fuel. As Gold comments, "I am sure there are no big stagnant swamps on Titan or Pluto."

To support the abiogenic theory, Gold notes several points:

  1. The geographical patterns that emerge from the oil fields, whether in the Middle East or Indonesia, all exhibit a correspondence to deep-Earth geological structure. This is in stark contrast to the haphazard deposition we find with surface life, and its subsequent fossils, which have never exhibited such patterns.

  2. Hydrocarbons from a particular oil field do not exhibit chemical changes as the depth of their extraction increases. But the fossils above them have constantly changing biologi-cal "signatures," which relate to their particular paleontological periods.

  3. Hydrocarbons are found in geographic areas where the amount of prehistoric life known to be at that location could never have provided the quantities of hydrocarbons involved. Most surface life is comprised of 90 percent water and 10 percent organic compounds. So, even if that 10 percent that is organic compounds had been entirely converted to "fossil fuels," it would not come close to the mass of hydrocarbons already extracted during the last 130 years.

  4. Because hydrocarbons are so consistent, the use of distinct trace metals can be used to identify their geographic: origin.

  5. The existing petroleum reservoirs are refilling themselves - from the bottom! Gold ex-plains: "The phenomenon of petroleum reservoirs that seem to refill themselves is widely reported, notably in the Middle East and along the U.S. Gulf Coast. I regard these occurrences as strong evidence for the deep-Earth gas theory."

The Carbon Case

Life as we know it is based on the chemical properties of carbon. Although there is discus-sion that silicon is another element that could provide a basis for life, carbon-based life is all that we have observed thus far. The origin, quantity, and duty cycle of carbon is thus funda-mental to a complete understanding of life on Earth. As it turns out, certain chemical forms of carbon are also crucial to the preservation of life.

The land and ocean areas contain sedimentary rocks which have great quantities of carbon-based chemical materials called carbonaceous compounds. A full 80 percent of this material contains oxygen; for example, calcium carbonate, better known as limestone, is an oxygena-ted material. The other 20 percent that is not oxygenated, is comprised of the hydrocarbons - oil, coal, and methane. There is also a tiny fraction of not-yet-decomposed biological debris that is included in the carbon content of the sedimentary layer.

Carbonaceous compounds are also found in the atmosphere, mostly as carbon dioxide or methane. Together, atmosphere and the sedimentary layers of the land and ocean comprise what is called the atmospheric-ocean pool. The total amount of carbon in this pool is enor-mous, and the overwhelming majority of this "near surface enrichment" of carbon is in the sediments, not the atmosphere.

Venus and the Global Warmers:

Environmentalists argue that this near-surface enrichment of carbon originated from the prehistoric atmosphere, and they promote the notion that the Earth's early atmosphere was very similar to that of Venus. Earth's carbon, they say, was "precipitated out" from atmos-pheric carbon dioxide into the atmospheric-ocean pool; absorption of carbon by prehistoric plants also occurred.

To hard-sell the global warming agenda, these theorists emphasize that Venus has vast quantities of the "greenhouse gas" carbon dioxide and, as a result, the temperature on its surface is about 700 degrees. However, these environmentalists usually fail to mention that Venus is 26 million miles closer to the Sun, or that its orbit is a near-perfect circle!

Unlike computer climate modelers or politicians with degrees in theology, Gold is an astro-physicist who has spent decades deciphering the details of how planetary bodies form. According to Gold, the general cosmic conditions that formed Earth and Venus were similar, but the devil is in the details. The early Earth was not characterized by the capture of gases from space, as was Venus. An indication of this is Earth's very low quantities of atmospheric krypton and xenon, compared with the rest of the solar system.

Gold also points out that if the carbonate rocks got their carbon from an early atmosphere, the deeper sedimentary layers should possess higher densities of carbonaceous compounds. If the carbon was "precipitated out" from an early atmosphere that was originally rich in carbon dioxide, then shallower rock specimens should show a successive decline of carbonaceous compounds.

The geological records prove otherwise, as Gold shows. There is no successive decline of carbonaceous compounds; the density is steady throughout geologic time. "The only sound explanation," Gold says, "is that atmospheric gases have derived mainly from outgassing of volatiles derived at depth from buried solid materials, not from an initial large atmosphere acquired at the Earth's formation or by later capture of gases from space."

More compelling, in my mind, is the issue of carbon-13. In the last decade, it has been proven that plants do not inhale carbon dioxide containing the heavy isotope C-13. The process of diffusion used by plants during respiration allows only the carbon dioxide containing C-12. Now, C-13 occurs in nature at a rate of just 1 percent. This means that if the hydrocarbons that were layed down over millions of years are the result of decomposing plant life, then these "fossil fuels" should show an absence of C-13. However, the samples of hydrocarbons taken from deep wells show no such isotopic constituency.

What is found is the original stellar nucleo-synthesis constituency of 99 percent C-12 and 1 percent C-13. Gold cautions that a process of geological fractionalization, especially of methane, must be accounted for when discussing similar constituencies of the carbonate rocks.

The Helium Issue:

Permeating every oil find throughout the history of the world, is the presence of outgassing helium. In fact, it is so plentiful at the well sites, that petroleum companies now use helium detectors as one of their oil prospec-ting tools, and commercial quantities of helium are piped, and repackaged for sale at well sites. Gold says: "The association of helium with hydrocar-bons is probably the most striking fact that the biogenic theory ("fossil fuels") fails to account for, and therefore it has been for me of greatest interest."

Helium is inert, it does not react. It is not a member of the "primordial dozen." (Recently, bio-physicists de-termined that the stable nuclides that were the original minimum required for life to begin on Earth are hydro-gen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sodium, magnesium, phosphorous, sulfur, chlorine, potassium, calcium, and iron.) Plant life does not use helium for anything, and it is not derived from life.

However, it is a fundamental product of stellar nucleosynthesis. It is also a known byproduct of the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium. Both of these heavy nuclides are known to exist at great depth, about 200 miles down.

Curiously, helium is not found in meaningful quantities in areas that are not producing oil or methane. When the constituents of oil wells are examined for mixing ratios of helium, the data patterns are consistent throughout the world. Alone, helium does not possess the fluid pressu-res required to reach the surface in the manner observed.

The only way that such quantities and consistencies of helium mixing are possible. Gold ex-plains is by virtue of a deep source carrier gas" such as methane. The depth of these sources is far below the penetration depths of surface life of their fossils. (Sec Figure 1.)

The Diamond Evidence:

Another item supportive of the abiogenic theory is the data Gold gathered from diamonds, which are a pure form of carbon. The temperatures and pressures required to form diamonds begin at depths of 70 miles. This far down, where the pressures are nearly 600,000 pounds per square inch, is far below the reach and survival of fossils. Environmentalists and others claim that hydrocarbons cannot be created in the domains of such high temperatures; dia-monds would disassociate there, they say, and, therefore, could not have possibly been crea-ted there. But such claims have failed to take into account the stabilizing, effects of high pres-sure on temperature-related excitation. In any case, Gold has confirmed that between the interstitial spaces of the carbon crystals that comprise the diamonds, one finds hydrocarbons. The biogenic theory of "fossil fuels" has no explanation for this fact of nature.

The Siljan Ring Experiment:

Another example Gold uses to illustrate the abiogenic theory is that of the Siljan Ring, a mete-or impact structure in the central part of Sweden, near the city of Rattvik. Because the location is so far north, it is not considered a site where one would find an abundance of "fossil fuels." The interior of the impact structure has very few sedimentary rocks, as a result of the impact explosion. The interior also has a basement rock that is very thin.

In 1906, Gold and his Swedish and American colleagues drilled holes reaching nearly 5 miles down from the impact interior. The idea was to penetrate the lower crust, and possibly the upper mantle. At these depths, and in this location, no surface life that was decomposed over time could possibly have existed, which makes it an excellent choice for scientific research intended to test the abiogenic theory of hydrocarbon formation.

I emphasize "research" here, because the intention was not the large scale production of na-tural gas or crude oil. Despite this format, by 1991, the Siljan Ring experiment was producing 80 barrels of crude oil per day. These are not commercial quantities, but that was not the intention of the project; science was the intention.

The Russians have taken note of Gold's scientific: findings; the. major American petroleum companies have not yet done so. As of 1998, the Russians have more than 300 wells, drilled into the basement rock on the basis of the Siljan Ring experiment, all of which are producing commercial quantities of crude oil and natural gas.

Using the knowledge and experience gained from Gold, the Russians have transferred their drilling technology to their former allies in Vietnam. So far, in what is called the White Tiger Field, they have drilled 20 wells into the basement rock. The Vietnamese are producing in excess of 6,000 barrels of crude oil per day per well, in an area in which the biogenic theory of "fossil fuels" maintains there will be no hydrocarbons. It appears that the debate is over.

Paul Sheridan is an engineer and automotive consultant, based in Dearborn, Mich.

Gold's schematic shows how the deep-earth gas theory would account for the helium association with metha-ne. Helium produced by radioactive decay, at levels as deep as 300 km, is swept into the stream of upwelling nitrogen. At 100 km, designated here as the methane domain, nitrogen and helium mix with methane, and all three continue upward. The three gases arrive in the final fields with mixing ratios already determined.

Source: The Deep Hot Biosphere, p. 76

Methane emissions in some places within the Siljan Ring of Sweden, where no "fossil fuels" are expected to be found, are strong enough to produce a flame. For this photograph, Gold covered a water well with a plastic sheet for a few minutes, then pricked the sheet with a pin and put a match over the hole. A flame shot up 30 to 40 cm, and then declined to 10 cm. Gold aborted the experiment after 10 minutes, when the plastic began to melt.
Source: The Deep Hot Biosphere, p. 112

Published in 21st Century Science & Technology, 21st Century Associates, Washington DC.

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