Conventional Wisdom Regarding Oil Origins May Be Wrong

Conventional Wisdom Regarding Oil Origins May Be Wrong
May 1, 2007

Review of
Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil
Jerome R. Corsi and Craig R. Smith
WND Books, 2005, 356 pages, $26.95
ISBN 1581824890


In 1956, while studying petroleum engineering at Princeton University, I read a statement by Vladimir Porfir’yev, a prominent Russian geologist, who said, “The overwhelming preponderance of geological evidence compels the conclusion that crude oil and natural gas have no intrinsic connection with biological matter originating near the surface of the Earth. They are primordial materials which have been erupted from great depth.”

My recognition of the near total vagueness of all I had studied regarding the origin of oil up to that moment made Porfir’yev’s statement appear completely logical to me.

In the intervening years I read a great deal of material written by the late Thomas Gold of Cornell University, who espoused the very same scientific position on the origin of oil, which has been largely ignored by the U.S. oil industry. Not so by the Russians, who have uncovered vast reserves of oil as a result of not looking for biological decay and seismic structural traps, but rather just geologic structural traps connected to deep crustal hot spots.

Soviet scientists ridiculed the idea that an ancient, primeval morass of plant and animal remains was covered by sedimentary deposits over millions of years, and compressed for millions of more years of heat and pressure, to create oil and natural gas.

Longtime Soviet Knowledge

The story of why this theory did not advance beyond the Soviet Union is told in the excellent book Black Gold Stranglehold, along with much more about the myths of oil scarcity and the politics of oil.

The reason the theory never left Russia is that Stalin had no reason to inform his enemies, especially not Americans or the British. Also, most of the findings of the Soviet scientists were published in Russian, and few American or British scholars of the day read Russian. Besides, we were locked into the mindset that oil is a fossil fuel.

Over the past 50 years Soviet scientists have published hundreds of papers on the non-biologic formation of oil within the Earth. The theory is widely accepted in Russia, though largely unheard of in the rest of the world.

Americans have been deeply invested in the idea that we are running out of oil, and that oil companies are making unconscionable profits while destroying our environment and ignoring renewable energy sources. Any competing idea is so threatening that it has to be ridiculed and left unexamined, lest it be proven true.

How else could radical environmentalists continue their attack on the oil companies, a pillar, in their view, of American capitalism at its corrupt worst?

Challenging ‘Dead Dinosaurs’

In 1982, Gold said in a publication with British scientist Fred Hoyle, “The suggestion that petroleum might have arisen from some transformation of squashed fish or biological detritus is surely the silliest notion to have been entertained by substantial numbers of persons over an extended period of time.”

The fossil fuel theory dates back to the Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov in 1757, when he stated in the Proceedings of the Imperial Academy of Science in St. Petersburg, “Rock oil originates as tiny bodies of animals buried in the sediments which, under the influence of increased temperature and pressure acting during an unimaginable long period of time, transform into rock oil.”

Dimitry Mendeleyev, who first arranged the Periodic Table of Elements based on atomic mass in 1896, fiercely rejected Lomonosov’s theory. Nevertheless, Lomonosov’s theory took hold throughout most of the world. Mendeleyev suggested oil is primordial material, but Russians themselves did not change their minds for more than half a century, and the rest of the world never did.

I was persuaded initially, many years ago, that oil was not derived from biologic material by the very same unanswered questions stated by Corsi and Smith: “Why don’t the text books show the oil transformation formulas specifying in equation form the amount of pressure that must be applied over what period of time? Where do we find the exact chemical formulae under which ancient leaves and bones became hydrocarbon petroleum? Where is the laboratory experimental proof?”

Fossil Challenge Not New

Gold’s most famous book on the subject was published in 1998, The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels. Gold’s thinking about oil began with his primary discipline, astronomy.

As an astronomer, he was aware that hydrocarbons are abundant in the universe, where we assume no life exists. Thus, how could hydrocarbons be organic chemicals resulting from life processes on Earth? He reasoned that hydrogen--being common in the universe--could combine with carbon to form hydrocarbon whether life is present or not. This idea was evidently never passed on to geologists.

Gold reasoned that we find more oil in the Middle East than Florida or Montana because deep subsurface structures in the Middle East are more fractured there, allowing the oil to flow upward due to its low specific gravity and the rotation of the Earth. He believed the reason we find oil in sedimentary rocks is not because they encased rotting ancient forests and dinosaurs, but because sedimentary rock is porous enough for the oil moving toward the surface of the Earth to pool within it.

Corsi and Smith then describe how Gold deduced that oil, as it travels upward from deep within the Earth’s mantle, is able to pick up various microbes and bacteria that live in the layers of rock through which the oil passes on its way to the Earth’s surface. These microbes are adapted to living directly off the hydrocarbons that constitute the oil itself, without need of sunlight or photosynthesis.

Therefore, oil could contain evidence of living organisms and still be a completely abiotic substance (one not requiring any form of living agent to be produced). Corsi and Smith conclude that “the fossil fuel theory is limiting in that we are looking for oil in the wrong places, [and] underestimating the availability of oil because we are locked into a belief that oil will have to run out.”

Peak Oil Deception

The authors lay much of the blame for this continuing confusion on the shoulders of M. King Hubbert (who happened to be one of my mentors), for telling the world in 1957 that oil production would peak in the 1970s and then decline. At the time, I questioned Hubbert to no avail, and regardless of the fact that he was known to be wrong by the time the 1980s came along, the energy doomsayers insisted that his core theory was right, but just a few decades off.

They still have not given up, despite the fact that new oil fields are being found worldwide. Today we have more proven oil reserves than ever before. There is no empirical evidence that these trends will ever stop.

The authors of Black Gold state emphatically that the world is not running out of oil. However, note the authors, this alternative hypothesis is “the one supporters of Hubbert’s Peak never contemplate seriously.” Hubbert’s Peak proponents simply say that no matter how much oil we find around the world, eventually explorers are bound to find all of it.

Corsi and Smith nail current reality with the following observation: “Reading book after book predicting gloom and doom, we are left with the conclusion that the fossil-fuel advocates are locked into the type of thinking best characterized by Thomas Robert Malthus, whose famous 1789 essay predicted that population would ultimately outstrip our ability to produce food, resulting in a series of crises such as war and famine which in turn would cut back populations to more manageable levels.”

Malthus is famous not because his theory was right but because experience proved him wrong.

Oil Reserves Growing

To support their claim that we have more accessible oil available than ever before, with a great deal more on the horizon, Corsi and Smith describe in great detail many of the newest oil fields being put into production, including ones in Kazakhstan, Iran, and countless offshore areas, all of which support their abiotic theory.

Taking data from the United States Energy Information Administration, the authors explain that in 2005 proven world reserves totaled 1.28 trillion barrels, while in 1980 the proven reserves were only 645 billion barrels.

Alarmists fail to realize that we are finding more oil all the time. Nor do they acknowledge that their predictions that we are running out of oil have always been wrong. They simply keep pushing the year we will run out of oil further decades ahead.

If Corsi, Smith, and Gold are right, that decade is unlikely ever to arrive.

Small ANWR Footprint

Corsi and Smith describe the foolishness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) being put off-limits for resource recovery by the very same people who insist we are running out of oil. The area on which the president wishes to produce oil in ANWR, they say, compares to the size of a postage stamp on a football field.

The footprint of 2,000 acres we need against the more than 19 million acres in ANWR is only one one-hundredth of 1 percent. The object of the most vocal opponents of ANWR oil production is to stop all oil production in the United States instead of proceeding under environmentally responsible conditions.

Strongly Recommend

Black Gold Stranglehold also contains excellent chapters on the global warming hoax,described monthly on the pages of this publication, and our nuclear energy success and future potential.

Where else can you learn that we have 103 nuclear plants operating in 31 states providing the nation with 20 percent of its electric power, while Vermont, perhaps our most liberal state, gets 74 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, followed by South Carolina (55 percent), Connecticut (54 percent), New Jersey (52 percent), Illinois (50 percent), and New Hampshire (43 percent)?

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the world’s oil supply from the point of view of economics, politics, exploration, location, and technology.


Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (lehr@heartland.org) is science director of The Heartland Institute.