Please Explain: Oil

Friday, March 06, 2009

Petroleum (and all of its byproducts) have shaped our world into what it is today. Discover where oil comes from, how it’s refined and how much of it is left in ground on this week's Please Explain. Dr. John B. Curtis is Professor in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Dr. William Fisher is a Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas.


Dr. William Fisher

Comments [14]

isme isme from USA

Methane is NOT a long chain hydrocarbon. Few scientists say that it requires life to form. Many simple non-biological reactions can produce methane. However I guarantee that your farts have methane in them.

So methane proves nothing either way. In fact most scientists would probably be doubt about the source of ethane and even propane if you gave them a random sample.

But once you get to hexane, heptane, octane, and above - and then put them in high concentration. Well then the non-living processes are very rare and that is a lot of carbon concentration to begin with. Even if abiotic oil formed deep in the mantle by some rare reaction, there is not model which would lead it to collect in one place.

In fact all abiotic models tend to require a big lump of carbon to make long chain hydrocarbons probable and to allow accumulation of formed oil into a centralized oil deposit today's geologist would recognize.

Jul. 03 2009 04:18 AM
isme isme from USA

Wells pumped dry do holes in desert sands refill with water after all the water is scooped out. It is just a matter of oil or water can only flow through sand at certain rate.

Actually one one pumping issue is that if you pump too fast all the thin light oil drains off quickly...leaving only really thick oil in the immediate surrounding sand. Yup it forms gummy seal with the sand around the well and the well goes "dry" early. You can drill another well a few miles away and get oil again, but have lost a lot of oil in the gummed up area. However, depending on how bad the thick oil is...if you wait long enough surrounding lighter oil may eventually dissolve the barrier of thick oil and flow to the original hole again, especially if you do not drill elsewhere in the nearby area.

Jul. 03 2009 04:06 AM
isme isme from USA

Abiotic oil theory rests on the fact that evidence of fossil oil formation theory cannot survive its own proposed formation process (heat and pressure). So both theories lack proof except...

Coal does have fossils embedded in the coal.

Oil could very well be formed by coal being dragged into the mantle by subduction at plate boundaries to experience the necessary pressure and heat. Some geologists think the ocean crust is completely dragged under about every 100 million years. So both groups would be half right in that the resulting oil would later bubble up from under the crust.

Also massive high carbon meteorites would experience the same high pressure and heat needed to produce oil - as well as potentially burying the oil deeply and flipping layers of geology upside down.

But none of these theories proposes a scientific mechanism by which we can expect fast renew or assume large additional reserves. Even the abiotic theory is over a long time scale...

unless those abiotic oil fanatics are also creationists like my uncle who says "God would not let the US of A run out of oil due to our manifest destiny to dominate the rest the world in the same way that humans are to dominate the animals as stated in the bible." Heh I have seen the animals statement in Genesis but am not sure how he gets the USA manifest destiny.

Jul. 03 2009 03:57 AM
Jean Millien from New York

If oil is made out compressed materials like trees and other similar material.
How come the barren middle is so full of oil.
It looks now that there was not abundant vegetations there.
Jean M.

Mar. 06 2009 02:12 PM
Jimmy from NJ

How efficient is oil in terms of a fuel. You had a guest on the other day talking about how Inefficient automobiles use gas.. are we currently missusing Oil/Gas.. meaning. in the way that we burn it.. are we fully taking advantage of the energy produced.. or is much of the energy wasted when combusted.

Mar. 06 2009 01:56 PM
Jamison from NYC

Please ask how algae FUEL differs from oil?

Mar. 06 2009 01:55 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

Approximately how many products are derived from oil products.

Mar. 06 2009 01:52 PM

What amount of oil is used to produce plastics?

Mar. 06 2009 01:51 PM
Duane from Brooklyn, NY

So little is known about oil and there is an assumption that it is a limited resource, but in fact there are many, many scientists who believe oil is abiotic. that is it is created at the depths of the earth.

Professors and experts can only say oil is limited and it is created by ancient vegetation. Points such as:

• Oil being discovered at 30,000 feet, far below the 18,000 feet where organic matter is no longer found.
• Wells pumped dry later replenished.
• Volume of oil pumped thus far not accountable from organic material alone according to present models.
• In Situ production of methane under the conditions that exist in the Earth's upper mantle

Obviously, the earth's oil supply is much more complicated that the experts can accurately explain.

Mar. 06 2009 01:49 PM

Why not use natural gas to power cars or to make diesel fuel? Apparently, canada and US has as much natural gas as Saudi Arabia has oil.

Mar. 06 2009 01:49 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I am from Beaumont and am familiar with the oil industry and the extent to which my economy depends on it. What is the relationship between oil and natural gas?

Mar. 06 2009 01:47 PM
Eric from Jersey City


Please ask your guests about peak oil. Is it real, when will it hit, and will the consequences be as dire as many predict?

Mar. 06 2009 01:46 PM
Kathy from Glen Cove, NY

I have often visited a bird preserve with a brook running through it. After the fall leaves have fallen into the water and begun to decompose, I've noticed there is sometimes the multi-colored sheen from oil, like one would see on the street in the rain, on the surface of the water. Is this the beginning stages of crude oil?

Mar. 06 2009 01:31 PM
Carolyn Maurice from Manhattan

"It's" is a contraction of "It is."

Mar. 06 2009 08:42 AM

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