the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Methane Converted to Abiogenic Oil in Mantle-like Conditions

Posted by Jeff Id on July 27, 2009

We’ve heard it before, but this sounds like a bit of progress.  It makes you wonder.

The oil and gas that fuels our homes and cars started out as living organisms that died, were compressed, and heated under heavy layers of sediments in the Earth’s crust. Scientists have debated for years whether some of these hydrocarbons could also have been created deeper in the Earth and formed without organic matter. Now for the first time, scientists have found that ethane and heavier hydrocarbons can be synthesized under the pressure-temperature conditions of the upper mantle —the layer of Earth under the crust and on top of the core.

Science Daily.

The research was conducted by scientists at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory, with colleagues from Russia and Sweden, and is published in the July 26, advanced online issue of Nature Geoscience.

Now, a team led by Alexander Goncharov at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in the US, say they have provided solid experimental data that support these predictions. ‘What we found, for the first time, is the transformation of methane to heavy hydrocarbons like propane or butane, under upper mantle conditions,’ says Goncharov.

Chemistry World

Furthermore, the researchers recognise that this is just the first of many steps in building a case that supports an abiogenic origin of hydrocarbons. ‘We are in preparation for doing more experiments with more complex systems, including minerals which are relevant for the upper mantle earth,’ explains Goncharov. ‘An obvious consequence of our work could be that we might have more oil in the Earth than has been expected, but that’s highly speculative’ he adds.

14 Responses to “Methane Converted to Abiogenic Oil in Mantle-like Conditions”

  1. jorge c said

    so… was fred hoyle right???

  2. DeWitt Payne said

    Yeah, but where does the methane come from? Until you can show that methane is generated at those depths from carbonate rock (unlikely in the absence of water), the primary source is still biological. The standard mechanism says you get methane if your oil shale (complete misnomer as it isn’t oil yet) starting material is buried too deep (temperature too high), too long. Even then, the geology has to be just right to trap the methane (or the oil for that matter) in sufficient amounts and in sufficiently porous rock to be recoverable.

  3. EJ said

    Consider the moon Titan:


    Like Earth, Titan has a nitrogen atmosphere. Titan’s atmosphere is 95% nitrogen, compared to earth’s 78%. The other 5% of Titan’s atmosphere is mostly methane with other hydrocarbons, including ethane, propane, and acetylene. This composition may be similar to Earth’s atmospheric composition before biological activity started releasing oxygen.

    Methane Lakes and Seas
    Titan’s atmospheric composition may be similar to Earth’s, but Titan is not Earthlike. Its -180 degrees C surface temperature is cold enough to liquefy methane and ethane. On Titan it rains methane and ethane rather than water. Titan has a methane cycle similar to Earth’s water cycle. Titan’s surface is covered with lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane that were long suspected and finally discovered by Cassini radar images. These lakes range in size from about the size of Lake Superior to the smallest size resolvable by the radar maps, one square kilometer.

    Read more:

  4. DeWitt Payne said

    With a reducing atmosphere, you get methane and ammonia and if the gravity is high enough, hydrogen rather than water, CO2 and nitrogen. The outer planets have a lot of hydrogen because it was blown out there when the sun ignited. A Mars or Venus size planet doesn’t have much water either because UV in the upper atmosphere splits what water was left into hydrogen and hydroxyl radical and the hydrogen escapes into space. But that’s the atmosphere. There’s no reason to believe that methane, biotic or abiotic exists in the mantle at all in significant quantities. That implies that if there is abiotic generation it’s a very slow process. It also needs to be trapped and concentrated before it’s useful. We know the geology of most of those structures and they’ve already been explored.

    Petroleum cracking is well known to be an equilibrium process and can be driven in either direction so I doubt that most petroleum chemists and geologists greeted this paper with anything more than a yawn.

  5. JAE said

    “Petroleum cracking is well known to be an equilibrium process and can be driven in either direction so I doubt that most petroleum chemists and geologists greeted this paper with anything more than a yawn.”

    Some probably don’t yawn, because they realize that not everything about our planet, including chemical reactions in the mantle, is known.

  6. There is little new there, if anything. It is pretty much universally accepted in the exploration industry that methane can be biological and abiotic. The next step is the acknowledgement that heavier hydrocarbons can also be abiotic. This is the cornerstone of the very successful Russian/Ukrainian deep hydrocarbon theory.

    The following link is an excellent source of information, albeit somewhat centred around the author’s papers:

    Of particular note should be the C13 references.

  7. mondo said

    Deserving of consideration in this discussion is Vladimir Larin’s “Hydridic Earth”, published by Polar Publishing (see Larin develops an elegant hypothesis based on the earth once being a giant “gas planet” much like Jupiter now is.

    Larin provides a possible explanation for the source of the methane, and for that matter, the water. His hypothesis has not gained widespread acceptance. In fact, it seems that most people have never heard of it. However, they hypothesis is elegant, and well argued.

  8. Nathan said

    Ummmmmm Ask yourself, how do oil companies look for oil? Do they assume a mantle derivation?

    No, they look for a source rock rich in TOC (total organic carbon), then look for a resevoir rock, then look for a suitable play (stratigraphic and structral environment that would trap the oil).

  9. timetochooseagain said

    8-Nathan-who are you gonna believe, the scientists or the evil oil companies? Huh?


  10. timetochooseagain said

    For the record-I couldn’t resist the joke…I have no opinion on this abiotic oil business.

  11. Jeff Id said

    #10 Me neither, it’s not a big deal to me. I found it interesting that the chemical process of extending carbon chains was reasonable though.

  12. Mark T said

    Abiotic oil is a huge problem for the warmists if true. What happens if hydrocarbons such as oil are replenishable? We keep using them.


  13. michel said

    Kutcherov and his friend Jack Kenney are genuine swindlers ! Notice that Kutcherov now agree that there is solid evidence for that most petroleum accumulations are fossil fuel. However, previously Kenney & Kutcherov have been claiming that it is thermodynamically impossible to form petroleum from biological matter. Also notice that this crazy team have been claiming they helped finding more than 65 billion barrels of abiotic oil in Ukraine; a classical swindlers fabrication. In fact the sum of all oil ever produced or discovered in Ukraine (today nearly 20 years after these claimed discoveries) is not more than 2 billion barrels. Kenney & Kutcherov claimed they found 30 times more, and they are the only ones in the world ever having heard about these giant abiotic oil fields !

    Have a look at:

    to read about all the crazy fabrications Kutcherov and Kenney has produced.

    The main point is this: Mass balance shows that source rocks (mainly packed by algal residues) have generated and expelled 10 to 100 times more petroleum than ever discovered in a mature petroleum province. The amount of abiotic methane ever recovered is less than what an average human produce after a box of beans. That a given reaction can generate hydrocarbons, proves nothing about what generated the economic quantities of petroleum in sedimentary basins.

  14. Lett said

    Yes they are 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: