Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How petroleum is formed in the earth?

  1. Jun 18, 2010 #1
    I heard a whole show on Science Fridays on NPR that basically stated that we do not really know. Most people assume its decaying organic material, but the Russians and some other scientists have created all sorts of hydrocarbons in the lab with water, Carbonate in rocks, and iron or other common metals as catalysts under high pressure and temp. Some of the guys they talked to said that "oil" is mostly made INORGANICALLY?

    So whats the consensus?
    1. We dont know for sure 2. Organically decaying plant/animal material 3. Inorganically
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 18, 2010 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    2. Although it's only plant (algae) material, really and 'decaying' isn't quite the correct term. Sounds like a very unbalanced documentary.

    Yes, there was a Soviet-era Russian (Kudryavtsev) who had an "alternative" theory, back in the 1950's, but it was not mainstream even in the Soviet Union, and is by no means a mainstream theory now. The main proponents could be counted on one hand, whereas every other petrochemist in the world is basically on the other side. And it's only the proponents who claim this is still an open question.

    There's simply too much evidence saying otherwise. The biggest single piece of evidence is the existence of metalloporphyrins in oil, which are highly similar to chlorophyll. There's no other theory to explain these fairly complicated organic molecules. (I don't even think the proponents of 'oil abiogenesis' dispute that, but rather claim that while the porphyrins and other biomarkers might have come from biological material, all the rest of the oil came about via their mechanism.)

    Oil prospecting is done, quite successfully, on the basis of the mainstream theory. One of the main proponents of oil abiogenesis, Thomas Gold, predicted on the basis of his theory that there'd be oil in the Siljan ring area of Sweden. They drilled for years there - and found absolutely nothing.

    It sucks to see these old, discredited theories being dredged up. To me, it seems like the global-warming deniers have convinced themselves so thoroughly that the end of oil means the end of civilization, that they want to extend their delusions to pretending oil will last forever as well!
  4. Jun 18, 2010 #3
    I cant believe they put this on NPR...

    I heard it with another colleague and we were in shock that we were so behind as we thought organically.

    Thanks for the reply. I had not heard about the chlorophyll like molecules.

    I knew there was a bunch of stuff in diff. types of deposits after listening to a petrochemical lab that can ID oil by rig or formation as every place seems to have its own unique "slurry" of hydrocarbons and I got to thinking about that radio show. They were using the lab to ID tarballs and found out they were not from the current catostrophe in the gulf and probably from a ship(s) that had dumped some waste. Apparently its expensive to clean so some boats just dump hydrocarbons and this group tries to trace the source. A lot of boats are apparently dumping now thinking blame will be placed on the Deep Water Horizon.

  5. Jun 18, 2010 #4
    I can. :tongue2:
  6. Jun 18, 2010 #5
    Ira Flatow would do this... jeezzz...
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook