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Further Petroleum-Related Nonsense from the National Post

September 13, 2009

I’m not going to attempt to document all the drivel and disinformation that appears in the National Post on the topic of fossil fuels, which would probably be a full-time job in itself. However, I did find it noteworthy that, just as I was taking their columnist Peter Foster to task for his skepticism about Peak Oil, another piece appeared on their website that seemed to offer a way out of the petroleum-depletion predicament.

This is a report by Lawrence Solomon on a new scientific study (press release here), published in Nature Geoscience. The study simulated the production of short hydrocarbon chains, essentially small molecules related to the basic constituents of crude oil, from methane deep within the Earth. This is potentially a big deal because the petroleum industry currently works under the assumption that virtually all fossil fuels are exactly that – products formed from the bodies of decaying organisms on geological timescales. (Solomon seems to think, rather ignorantly for a self-styled leading environmentalist, that these organisms were dinosaurs – in fact, plant matter and plankton were the major contributors.) But if oil can also be generated from non-biological sources, the amount of petroleum available here on planet Earth could be large enough to postpone any peak in supply far into the future. As Solomon puts it:

The implication of this research, which suggests that hydrocarbons are continuously generated through natural processes? Petroleum is a sustainable resource that will last as long as Planet Earth.

However, the idea that abiotic petroleum could save the oil industry has been around for a long time, and is essentially fringe science. Although the concept was historically popular among Russian and Ukrainian geologists, as Solomon notes, there are numerous reasons for skepticism (see this PDF for a technical review). Hydrocarbons can indeed be produced by non-biological processes, as this latest research confirms rather than demonstrates, but it seems unlikely that this happens on anything like an economically important scale. For Solomon to inflate an interesting chemistry experiment into a geological phenomenon that could give the world practically limitless supplies of oil is irresponsible in the extreme.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing is all too typical of the misinformed scientific reporting that regularly appears in the National Post, on the topic of climate change as well as that of resource depletion. It’s getting to the point where the paper is damaging Canada’s interests by misinforming the public about these critical issues.

Canada has enormous fossil fuel reserves, but good luck understanding their global economic and geopolitical importance if you think that limitless deposits of abiotic oil are there for the taking anyway. Good luck understanding the very real drawbacks of exploiting those resources, for Canada and the rest of the world, if you think that pouring vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will have no impact on the global climate. The National Post should find itself some environmental columnists who actually know what they’re talking about, for the good of us all.

Corwin

I’m definitely not going to attempt to document all of the petroleum-related drivel and disinformation that appears in the National Post, which would probably be a full-time job in itself. However, I did find it noteworthy that, just as I was taking their columnist Peter Foster to task for his skepticism about Peak Oil, another piece appeared on their website that seemed to offer a way out of the petroleum-depletion predicament.

This is a report by Lawrence Solomon on a new scientific study (press release here), published in Nature Geoscience. The study simulated the production of short hydrocarbon chains, essentially small molecules related to the basic constituents of crude oil, from methane deep within the Earth. This is potentially a big deal because the petroleum industry currently works under the assumption that virtually all fossil fuels are exactly that – products formed from the bodies of decaying organisms on geological timescales. (Solomon seems to think, rather ignorantly for a self-styled expert on energy issues, that these organisms were dinosaurs – in fact, plant matter and plankton were the major contributors.) But if oil can also be generated from non-biological sources, the amount of petroleum available here on planet Earth could be large enough to postpone any peak in supply far into the future. As Solomon puts it:

The implication of this research, which suggests that hydrocarbons are continuously generated through natural processes? Petroleum is a sustainable resource that will last as long as Planet Earth.

However, the idea that abiotic petroleum could save the oil industry has been around for a long time, and is essentially fringe science. Although the concept was historically popular among Russian and Ukrainian geologists, as Solomon notes, there are numerous reasons for skepticism (see this PDF for a technical review). Hydrocarbons can indeed be produced by non-biological processes, as this latest research confirms rather than demonstrates, but it seems very unlikely that this happens on anything like an economically important scale. For Solomon to inflate an interesting chemistry experiment into a geological phenomenon that could give the world practically limitless supplies of oil is irresponsible in the extreme.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing is all too typical of the misinformed scientific reporting that regularly appears in the National Post, on the topic of climate change as well as that of resource depletion. It’s getting to the point where the paper is damaging Canada’s interests by misinforming the public about these critical issues.

Canada has enormous fossil fuel reserves, but good luck understanding their global economic and geopolitical importance if you think that limitless deposits of abiotic oil are there for the taking anyway. Good luck understanding the very real drawbacks of exploiting those resources, for Canada and the rest of the world, if you think that pouring vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will have no impact on the global climate. The National Post should find itself some environmental columnists who actually know what they’re talking about, for the good of us all.


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