Sunday, December 02, 2007

It Ain't Dinosaur Juice

I read awhile back that some oil fields were just about at the end of their expected lide time and that output had slowed down to a fraction of what it was when it was first opened. Then new reserves were found where there were none.

Odd Reservoir Off Louisiana Prods Oil Experts to Seek a Deeper Meaning


HOUSTON -- Something mysterious is going on at Eugene Island 330.

Production at the oil field, deep in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, was supposed to have declined years ago. And for a while, it behaved like any normal field: Following its 1973 discovery, Eugene Island 330's output peaked at about 15,000 barrels a day. By 1989, production had slowed to about 4,000 barrels a

Then suddenly -- some say almost inexplicably -- Eugene Island's fortunes reversed. The field, operated by PennzEnergy Co., is now producing 13,000 barrels a day, and probable reserves have rocketed to more than 400 million barrels from 60 million.

Stranger still, scientists studying the field say the crude coming out of the pipe is of a geological age quite different from the oil that gushed 10 years ago.

This information is somewhat dated to be sure. But it is still pertinent and very interesting.

[...]Still, most geologists are hard-pressed to explain why the world's greatest oil pool, the Middle East, has more than doubled its reserves in the past 20 years, despite half a century of intense exploitation and relatively few new discoveries. It would take a pretty big pile of dead dinosaurs and prehistoric plants to account for the estimated 660 billion barrels of oil in the region, notes Norman Hyne, a professor at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. "Off-the-wall theories often turn out to be right," he says. Even some of the most staid U.S. oil companies find the Eugene Island discoveries intriguing.

"These reservoirs are refilling with oil," acknowledges David Sibley, a Chevron Corp. geologist who has monitored the work at Eugene Island. Mr. Sibley cautions, however, that much research remains to be done on the source of that oil. "At this point, it's not black and white. It's gray," he says.

This could be the result of as yet unknown features of the earth's oil producing formations and no new oil is actually being generated. But then again, maybe.

Economics never hindered the theorists, however. One, Thomas Gold, a respected astronomer and professor emeritus at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has held for years that oil is actually a renewable, primordial syrup continually manufactured by the Earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attacked by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs, he says.

While many scientists discount Prof. Gold's theory as unproved, "it made a believer out of me," says Robert Hefner, chairman of Seven Seas Petroleum Inc., a Houston firm that specializes in ultradeep drilling and has worked with the professor on his experiments. Seven Seas continues to use "conventional" methods in seeking reserves, though the halls of the company often ring with dissent. "My boss and I yell at each other all the time about these theories," says Russ Cunningham, a geologist and exploration manager for Seven Seas who isn't sold on Prof. Gold's ideas..

With the development of 3-D seismic technology, scientists were able to examine formation that contained previously hidden oil deposits. But there were other surprises.

What captivated scientists, though, was a deep fault in the bottom corner of the computer scan that was gushing oil like a garden hose. "We could see the stream," Dr. Anderson says. "It wasn't even debated that it was happening."

Woods Hole's Dr. Whelan, invited by Dr. Anderson to join the Eugene Island investigation, postulated that superheated methane gas -- a compound that is able to absorb vast amounts of oil -- was carrying crude from a deep source below. The age of the crude pushed through the stream, and its hotter temperature helped support that theory.

This non biogenic theory postulates that petroleum is not a fossil fuel and actually comes from much deeper within the earth - much deeper than the levels where fossils are found. Of course there are many critics of this and there is debate aplenty.

The scientific implications of this may eventually be resolved, but I am wondering if the political considerations surrounding it will allow this debate to mature ... or harden along ideological lines like so many other issues.

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