Abiogenic gas?

June 13, 2013

Natural gas, along with coal and oil, is considered a fossil fuel; that is, they are derived from lengthy processes that turn ancient biologic material into carbon minerals that we are able to burn for fuel.  This is the consensus opinion about fossil fuels.  However, there is also a minority opinion – and a very small minority at that – that all or at least some fossil fuels are misnamed; that they do not come from biological materials at all but from non-biological (abiotic) organic syntheses deep within the earth’s mantle, and what we mine today are the products of these processes which have migrated up into the crust.  These are called abiotic or abiogenic theories.  Mainstream science in the West considers them crank theories, but they have found more support in Russia.

Recently, however, the abiogenic thesis has begun to enter the mainstream.  Late last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece that opined “We May Live on a Natural Gas Machine” (link will require WSJ subscription).   The piece references the work of Russian abiotic theorist Vladimir Kucherov, who marshals both experimental results and secondary data to make the case for abiogenic production of coal, oil and gas.  You can read the paper referenced by the WSJ here, and below are a pair of diagrams illustrating his theory.

abiotic 1


abiotic 2

While the process of abiotic generation is constant, the migration is slow – it likely took centuries or even millennia to fill the reserves we have been tapping since the dawn of the industrial age.   However, Kucherov believes that are other deposits to be found, and in particular he believes that methane hydrates may prove to be the energy source of the future.  As a conclusion, he provides a map of the known and likely methane hydrate sites around the globe.   The total energy value of these deposits should dwarf that of the known oil deposits.  If Kucherov is correct – and, remember, he does not have much support in the scientific community – but if he is correct, the energy future of the world will be secure for several generations to come.



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