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CRUDE OIL IS A RENEWABLE RESOURCE

 

IT MAY SEEM HARD TO BELIEVE, BUT CRUDE OIL ACTUALLY IS A RENEWABLE RESOURCE, AND IT IS BEING RENEWED RIGHT NOW QUITE NATURALLY.

FIRST WE NEED TO DISPENSE WITH THE MISBEGOTTEN IDEA MY 4TH GRADE TEACHER PROCLAIMED, "CRUDE OIL COMES FROM DINOSAURS". AT 9 YEARS OLD I KNEW SHE WAS OUT TO LUNCH. JUST HOW IS IT BILLIONS OF DINOSAURS WOULD COME TOGETHER AND BECOME BURIED BEFORE THEY HAD A CHANCE TO ROT, LEAVING BEHIND JUST THE OIL?

THE REAL SOURCE OF CRUDE OIL WAS ESTABLISHED THROUGH AN EXPERIMENT PERFORMED BY A COMPANY IN HOUSTON IN 2004. THEY DECIDED TO TEST A RUSSIAN THEORY DATING FROM THE 1960S THAT STATES THAT CRUDE OIL COMES FROM PLANKTON IN THE SEA. HERE IS THE THEORY:

PHYTOPLANKTON PERFORM PHOTOSYNTHESIS AND ABSORB CO2 FROM THE AIR. THE PHYTOPLANKTON ARE EATEN BY ZOOPLANKTON THAT PRODUCE TINY SHELLS. WHEN THE ZOOPLANKTON DIE, THEY FALL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. THEIR ORGANIC MATTER ROTS, BUT THEIR SHELLS LEAVE BEHIND CALCIUM CARBONATE, CaCO3, A DURABLE CARBON CONTAINING COMPOUND. OVER MILLIONS OF YEARS THE CALCIUM CARBONATE BECOMES BONDED TOGETHER INTO SOLID MARBLE OR LIMESTONE.

SOMETIMES THAT MARBLE IS THRUST UP OUT OF THE SEA AS IT IS IN PLACES LIKE VERMONT. IN OTHER AREAS, IT CAN BE THRUST DOWN INTO THE EARTH (SUBDUCTED). WHEN IT REACHES A DEPTH OF ABOUT 60 MILES, THE EXTREME PRESSURE AND HEAT CAUSES CALCIUM CARBONATE TO REACT WITH WATER AND IRON OXIDE TO PRODUCE NATURAL GAS (METHANE, CH4). WHEN IT REACHES A DEPTH OF ABOUT 100 MILES, CRUDE OIL IS PRODUCED.

NOTE THAT WHEN WE BURN CRUDE OIL, CO2 IS RELEASED TO FEED THE PLANKTON, TO PRODUCE MORE CALCIUM CARBONATE, TO PRODUCE MORE OIL... THUS CRUDE OIL IS A RENEWABLE RESOURCE.

SO HOW DOES THE RUSSIAN THEORY STAND UP? THE HOUSTON EXPERIMENT FOUND THAT CRUDE OIL WAS PRODUCED IN EXACTLY THE COMPOSITION AND PROPORTIONS WE FIND IN THE GROUND TODAY. IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE FROM A CHEMISTRY STANDPOINT. IT ALSO AGREES WITH EVERYTHING WE SEE IN THE DISTRIBUTION OF CRUDE OIL AND WHERE WE FIND IT IN THE EARTH.

THE CRUDE OIL WE FIND IS PERCOLATING UP FROM FAR BELOW WHERE WE DISCOVER IT TRAPPED IN THE EARTH. THE CRUDE WE SEE IS LIKE THE COFFEE IN THE SMALL GLASS BUBBLE ON THE TOP OF A PERCOLATOR - MOST OF IT IS DOWN BELOW.

THERE'S A VERY INTERESTING OIL WELL ON AN ISLAND OFF THE COAST OF LOUISIANA. A FEW YEARS AGO IT APPEARED TO BE REACHING THE END OF ITS PRODUCTIVE LIFE, ITS PRODUCTION WAS DECLINING.

SUDDENLY ITS OIL PRODUCTION WENT UP AND THE OIL CHANGED FROM A MEDIUM CRUDE TO A LIGHT CRUDE! THIS MEANS A YOUNGER SOURCE OF OIL WAS COMING UP FROM BELOW.

IT'S ALSO WORTH NOTING THAT IN THE 70S SAUDI ARABIAN CRUDE WAS PREDICTED TO HAVE RUN OUT BY NOW, YET THEIR RESERVES HAVE RISEN. IN ALL PROBABILITY, YOUNGER CRUDE IS COMING UP FROM BELOW.

SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH CRUDE OIL? LATELY THE SURGE IN DEMAND FROM CHINA AND INDIA HAS UPSET THE BALANCE AND NEW OIL PRODUCTION CANNOT BE RAMPED UP FAST ENOUGH TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY MARGIN OF SUPPLY OVER DEMAND. WE ALSO HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HEDGE FUNDS SPECULATING BILLIONS AND DRIVING THE COST OF CRUDE TO UNREALISTIC LEVELS.

FUNDAMENTALLY THERE IS A GIGANTIC OBSTACLE TO PRICE STABILITY IN OIL, IT IS THE SIMPLE FACT THAT ARABIAN GULF STATES CAN PRODUCE OIL FOR $1/ BARREL AT LEVELS AS HIGH AS THEY WISH, IF THEY INSTALL MORE INFRASTRUCTURE.

ON THE OTHER HAND, PRODUCING THE OIL WE NEED IN THE US COULD COST $30 / BARREL. THAT MIGHT LOOK GOOD WHEN OIL IS $70 / BARREL, BUT WHO WOULD WANT TO RISK THE INVESTMENT IF THE SAUDIS COULD CUT THEM OFF AT THE KNEES AT ANY TIME?

OF COURSE WE COULD ALL SUBJECT OURSELVES TO BATTERY POWERED CARS, BUT NOTE, NO ONE HAS COME UP WITH A PRACTICAL BATTERY. A LITHIUM BATTERY TYPICALLY LOSES 20% OF ITS CAPACITY PER YEAR. HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD REALLY WANT A CAR THAT HAD A RANGE OF 250 MILES WHEN NEW, THAT DROPPED TO 200 / 150 / 100 / 50 / 0 MILES AS THE YEARS PASSED? AFTER 3 YEARS THEY WOULD LIKELY WANT A NEW BATTERY, BUT IT WOULD PROBABLY COST THEM $10,000 OR MORE.

I WOULD LOVE AN ELECTRIC CAR, BUT NOT WITH ANY BATTERIES THAT EXIST TODAY. IMAGINE ON A COLD DAY HAVING TO CHOOSE BETWEEN HEATING THE CAR WITH THE BATTERY AND HAVING A RANGE OF 50 MILES, OR WEARING A SNOWMOBILE SUIT SO YOU CAN DRIVE 150 MILES. AIR CONDITIONING? FORGET IT. IT WOULD STILL BE FUN TO DRIVE ON NICE DAYS - IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT.

SO IT ALL COMES DOWN TO COST. WE NEED CHEAP ENERGY AND OIL IS NEARLY PERFECT FOR TRANSPORTATION PURPOSES. IT PACKS A LOT OF ENERGY PER GALLON, IS EASILY PUMPED, AND PRODUCES A NICE CO2 FEEDSTOCK FOR PLANKTON.

CHINA IS MOVING TO CONVERT THEIR CHEAP COAL TO OIL. ITS NOT A PRACTICAL PROCESS AS YOU LOSE HALF THE ENERGY IN THE COAL DURING CONVERSION AND THE EQUIPMENT IS EXPENSIVE, BUT CHINA'S COSTS ARE SO LOW, THEY MAY MAKE IT WORK. IMPORTING OIL IS INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE TO CHINA AT CURRENT EXCHANGE RATES.

THEN THERE'S IRAQ. IRAQ HAS A POTENTIAL FOR CHEAP OIL SECOND ONLY TO SAUDI ARABIA AND IT WILL BE VERY EASY TO DEVELOP. WHEN THEY DO, THE PRICE OF OIL WILL COME DOWN.

SO WHY IS IT VERY FEW PEOPLE HAVE HEARD ABOUT THE HOUSTON EXPERIMENT? IT HAS THE DISTINCT RING OF TRUTH, AND IT IS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENT PERFORMED SO FAR THIS CENTURY. IT MAY BE THAT JOURNALISTS JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND THE SIGNIFICANCE, OR THEY MAY STILL BELIEVE THAT CRUDE OIL COMES FROM DINOSAURS.

THE LONG TERM CHALLENGE IS TO FIND THE CHEAPEST WAY TO PRODUCE OIL AND NOT GET UNDERCUT BY THE SAUDIS. IT MEANS IMPROVED TECHNOLOGY TO GET TO THE DEEPER OIL THAT WE NEED.

KNOWING CRUDE OIL IS RENEWABLE, I JUST FEEL SO GREEN!

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