September 14, 2004


Fuel suspected deep inside Earth: Studies suggest heat under crust may not destroy methane gas (Keay Davidson, September 14, 2004, SF Chronicle)

Oceans of fossil fuel-like gases and fluids, enough to support a high-tech society for many millennia to come, might exist far deeper inside the Earth than we've ever drilled before, researchers speculate.

Since the mid-19th century, a small but enthusiastic minority of scientists have argued that petroleum and other fuels are formed by purely chemical, or abiogenic, processes hundreds of miles inside Earth. An early champion was the great Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev, pioneer of the periodic table that hangs on the wall of virtually every high school chemistry classroom.

But most experts scoff at the idea. According to traditional theory, fossil fuels -- energy-rich, carbon-based molecules -- are formed over millions of years by biological processes, the disintegration of primeval plants and animals into smelly or gunky hydrocarbons like methane and petroleum. Such biogenic fossil fuels exist fairly close to Earth's surface, in reservoirs such as the oil fields of the Middle East.

One objection to the theory of abiogenic fuels is that they'd quickly disintegrate in the extreme heat and pressure hundreds of miles beneath the surface.

But now, experiments and computer modeling by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and elsewhere appear to have removed this objection.

Better raise the taxes, cause we'll never run out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2004 8:36 PM

I first ran into the contention that there were limitless supplies of methane if you drilled deep enough back in the late 70's or early 80's. I was kind of persuaded, but then the price of natural gas went into the tank, making it uneconomocal to drill what were even then considered deep wells (20,000 feet or so), so I never heard any more about the idea until now. The people who were promoting the "methane economy" idea seemed to me to have some pretty good reasons to cast doubt on the "abiogenic" theory of hydrocarbon formation. I guess if you live long enough, every idea comes back around.

Posted by: Dan at September 14, 2004 10:11 PM

Its a theory that just drives mainstream scientists wild, but we shall see what we shall see.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 15, 2004 1:06 AM

If it's MUCH deeper than we've ever drilled before, it'll stay right where it is. We are never going to drill much deeper than we already have.

We're pretty close to the point where the bit melts now.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 15, 2004 2:30 AM

Tougher bits will evolve.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2004 6:52 AM

Hey Orrin. I live in Illinois and generally speaking the Great Lakes insure a copious supply of fresh water. Why don't we start taxing its use to improve the availability of water in the parched sub Saharan dessert regions of Africa?

It's a plan. And it's consistent with your preferred method of dealing with petroleum "shortages". Tax those with access to natural resources to implement market based rationing of otherwise plentiful supplies.

Posted by: Ray Clutts at September 15, 2004 8:30 AM

If you want to know how to drill really deep, research "Casaba Howitzer".

Posted by: Ripper at September 15, 2004 9:46 AM


Obviously we should tax water quite heavily above subsistence usage.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2004 9:50 AM

I can see the resitance slogans now. "When water is taxed only criminals will own wells." They'll have to pry the steam shower and Jacuzzi from my dry and dessicated dead hands.

Posted by: Ray Clutts at September 15, 2004 10:53 AM

People around the Great Lakes may not to worry about water usage, but people on the Plains and the Southwest do. Vegas is already in forced water conservation mode and Phoenix will likely join within a decade. Both cities could have done much better water resource management if they accepted the fact it is scarce here and taxed it to the extent it would be consumed at or under the depletion rate (or perhaps only a bit over.) Give people enough allowance for drinking and washing at normal prices, but if they want green lawns in the desert they should pay for it.

And another thing about water, the people who make money off of it aren't funneling cash to terrorists.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 15, 2004 12:31 PM