Studien von Zeitfragen


Biotic Genesis of Petroleum?

An introduction to the modern petroleum science,
and to the Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins.

By J. F. Kenney (*), Russian Academy of Sciences
- Joint Institute of The Physics of the Earth.


The following articles take up, from different perspectives, the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins. Because that subject is one of which most persons outside the former U.S.S.R. are not familiar, a short synopsis of it and of its provenance and history, are given now.

1. The essence of the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins.

The modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins is an extensive body of scientific knowledge which covers the subjects of the chemical genesis of the hydrocarbon molecules which comprise natural petroleum, the physical processes which occasion their terrestrial concentration, the dynamical processes of the movement of that material into geological reservoirs of petroleum, and the location and economic production of petroleum. The modern Russian -Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins recognizes that petroleum is a primordial material of deep origin which has been erupted into the crust of the Earth. In short, and bluntly, petroleum is not a “fossil fuel” and has no intrinsic connection with dead dinosaurs (or any other biological detritus) “in the sediments” (or anywhere else).

The modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of petroleum is based upon rigorous scientific reasoning, consistent with the laws of physics and chemistry, as well as upon extensive geological observation, and rests squarely in the mainstream of modern physics and chemistry, from which it draws its provenance. Much of the modern Russian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum genesis developed from the sciences of chemistry and thermodynamics, and accordingly the modern theory has steadfastly held as a central tenet that the generation of hydrocarbons must conform to the general laws of chemical thermodynamics, - as must likewise all matter. In such respect, modern Russian-Ukrainian petroleum science contrasts strongly to what are too often passed off as “theories” in the field of geology in Britain and the U.S.A.

As will be shown explicitly in a following article, petroleum has no intrinsic association with biological material. The only hydrocarbon molecules which are exceptions to this point are methane, the hydrocarbon alkane specie of lowest chemical potential of all hydrocarbons, and to a lesser extent, ethene, the alkene of the lowest chemical potential of its homologous molecular series. Only methane is thermodynamically stable in the pressure and temperature regime of the near-surface crust of the Earth and accordingly can be generated there spontaneously, as is indeed observed for phenomena such as swamp gas or sewer gas. However, methane is practically the sole hydrocarbon molecule possessing such thermodynamic characteristic in that thermodynamic regime; almost all other reduced hydrocarbon molecules excepting only the lightest ones, are high pressure polymorphs of the hydrogen-carbon system. Spontaneous genesis of the heavier hydrocarbons which comprise natural petroleum occurs only in multi-kilobar regimes of high pressures, as is shown in a following article.

2. The historical beginnings of petroleum science, - with a touch of irony.

The history of petroleum science might be considered to have begun in the year 1757 when the great Russian scholar Mikhail  V. Lomonosov enunciated the hypothesis that oil might originate from biological detritus. Applying the rudimentary powers of observation and the necessarily limited analytical skills available in his time, Lomonosov hypothesized that “... ‹rock oil› [crude oil, or petroleum] originated as the minute bodies of dead marine and other animals which were buried in the sediments and which , over the passage of a great duration of time under the influence of heat and pressure, transformed into ‘rock oil’.” Such was the descriptive science practiced in the eighteenth century by Lomonosov and Linnaeus.

The scientists who first rejected Lomonsov’s hypothesis, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were the famous German naturalist and geologist Alexander von Humboldt and the French chemist and thermodynamicist Louis Joseph Gay-Lussac who together enunciated the proposition that oil is a primordial material erupted from great depth, and is unconnected with any biological matter near the surface of the Earth.

Thus both ideas were delivered with powerful pedigrees: the wrong biological notion having been put forward by the greatest Russian scientist of his time; and the abiotic proposition approximately a half century later by, respectively, two of the greatest German and French scientists.

Historically, the first scientific repudiation Lomonosov’s hypothesis of a biological origin of petroleum came from chemists and thermodynamicists. With the nascent development of chemistry during the nineteenth century, and following particularly the enunciation of the second law of thermodynamics by Clausius in 1850, Lomonosov’s biological hypothesis came inevitably under attack.

The great French chemist Marcellin Berthelot particularly scorned the hypothesis of a biological origin for petroleum. Berthelot first carried out experiments involving, among others, a series of what are now referred to as Kolbe reactions and demonstrated the generation of petroleum by dissolving steel in strong acid.  He produced the suite of n-alkanes and made it plain that such were generated in total absence of any “biological” molecule or process. Berthelot’s investigations were later extended and refined by other scientists, including Biasson and Sokolov, all of whom observed similar phenomena and likewise concluded that petroleum was unconnected to biological matter.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the great Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev also examined and rejected Lomonosov’s hypothesis of a biological origin for petroleum. In contrast to Berthelot who had made no suggestion as to where or how petroleum might have come, Mendeleev stated clearly that petroleum is a primordial material which has erupted from great depth. With extraordinary perception, Mendeleev hypothesized the existence of geological structures which he called “deep faults,” and correctly identified such as the locus of weakness in the crust of the Earth via which petroleum would travel from the depths. After he made that hypothesis, Mendeleev was abusively criticized by the geologists of his time, for the notion of deep faults was then unknown. Today, of course, an understanding of plate tectonics would be unimaginable without recognition of deep faults.

3. The enunciation and development of modern petroleum science.

The impetus for development of modern petroleum science came shortly after the end of World War II, and was impelled by recognition by the government of the (then) U.S.S.R. of the crucial necessity of petroleum in modern warfare. In 1947, the U.S.S.R. had (as its petroleum “experts” then estimated) very limited petroleum reserves, of which the largest were the oil fields in the region of the Abseron peninsula, near the Caspian city Baku in the present country of Azerbaijan. At that time, the oil fields near Baku were considered to be “depleting” and “nearing exhaustion.” During World War II, the Soviets had occupied the two northern provinces of Iran; in 1946, the British government had forced them out. By 1947, the Soviets realized that the American, British, and French were not going to allow them to operate in the middle east, nor in the petroleum producing areas of Africa, nor Indonesia, nor Burma, nor Malaysia, nor anywhere in the far east, nor in Latin America. The government of the Soviet Union recognized then that new petroleum reserves would have to be discovered and developed within the U.S.S.R.

The government of the Soviet Union initiated a “Manhattan Project” type program, which was given the highest priority to study every aspect of petroleum, to determine its origins and how petroleum reserves are generated, and to ascertain what might be the most effective strategies for petroleum exploration.  At that time, Russia benefited from the excellent educational system which had been introduced after the 1917 revolution. The Russian petroleum community had then almost two generations of highly educated, scientifically competent men and women, ready to take up the problem of petroleum origins. Modern Russian petroleum science followed within five years.

In 1951, the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins was first enunciated by Nikolai A. Kudryavtsev at the All-Union petroleum geology congress. Kudryavtsev analyzed the hypothesis of a biological origin of petroleum, and pointed out the failures of the claims then commonly put forth to support that hypothesis. Kudryavtsev was soon joined by numerous other Russian and Ukrainian geologists, among the first of whom were P. N. Kropotkin, K. A. Shakhvarstova, G. N. Dolenko, V. F. Linetskii, V. B. Porfir’yev, and K. A. Anikiev.

During the first decade of its existence, the modern theory of petroleum origins was the subject of great contention and controversy. Between the years 1951 and 1965, with the leadership of Kudryavtsev and Porfir’yev, increasing numbers of geologists published articles demonstrating the failures and inconsistencies inherent in the old “biogenic origin” hypothesis. With the passing of the first decade of the modern theory, the failure of the previous, eighteenth century hypothesis of an origin of petroleum from biological detritus in the near-surface sediments had been thoroughly demonstrated, the hypothesis of Lomonosov discredited, and the modern theory firmly established.

An important point to be recognized is that the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of abiotic petroleum origins was, initially, a geologists’ theory. Kudryavtsev, Kropotkin, Dolenko, Porfir’yev and the developers of the modern theory of petroleum were all geologists. Their arguments were necessarily those of geologists, developed from many observations, and much data, organized into a pattern, and argued by persuasion.

By contrast, the practice of mainstream, predictive modern science, particularly physics and chemistry, involves a minimum of observation or data, and applies only a minimum of physical law, inevitably expressed with formal mathematics, and argues by compulsion. Such predictive proof of the geologists assertions for the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins had to wait almost a half century, for such required the development not only of modern quantum statistical mechanics but also that of the techniques of many-body theory and the application of statistical geometry to the analysis of dense fluids, designated scaled particle theory.

4. The organization of these papers.

The papers collected on the following public-access pages of this web site are organized into several categories and sub -categories: The principle categories are the Scientific Publications; the Economic Publications; and the Political and Sociological Essays. The organization of the following papers does not follow the historical development of the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins but instead orders them according to the different aspects of modern petroleum science. A number of these papers were delivered at the International Conference on the Production of Petroleum from the Crystalline Basement, held in Kazan, Russia, June 2001, in celebration of the half-century commemoration of the enunciation of that theory by Nikolai Kudryavtsev.

4.1. The scientific and technical papers.

The Scientific Publications are further divided into two sets of articles dealing, first, with the rigorous scientific foundations upon which rests the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins, and, second, with applications of modern petroleum science to petroleum exploration and production.

In the first subsection are several published articles concerned directly with the statistical thermodynamics of the evolution of the hydrocarbon molecules and the origins of petroleum. The first paper in this section reviews the constraints of irreversibility upon the evolution of the hydrogen-carbon [H-C] system as determined by the second law of thermodynamics. In this article, the formalism of modern thermodynamics is applied freely, and the prohibition of spontaneous genesis of hydrocarbons heavier than methane in the regimes of temperature and pressure of the near-surface crust of the Earth is easily noted. A following paper reviews, and refutes, the claims for “evidence”[sic] for a biological origin of petroleum (commonly asserted in typical British and American textbooks on petroleum geology), - e.g., the “biomarkers,” the observation of optical activity, the slight differences in the abundances of linear molecules with odd (or even) numbers of carbon atoms, the presence of porphyrins, etc. The claims for each (as evidence of a biotic connection for petroleum) are refuted, with unchallenged evidence published in first-rank scientific journals often as long as thirty or forty years ago. The continued, egregious claims of such as “evidence” of a biological origin of petroleum are acknowledged to be fraudulent. A recent paper describes very recent analysis of the thermodynamic stability of the hydrogen-carbon system in circumstances most favorable to the evolution of hydrocarbons, and shows that the hydrocarbons which comprise natural petroleum cannot evolve spontaneously at pressures less than approximately 30 kbar, which pressures correspond to the depths of the mantle of the Earth. In the second instance, this paper describes experimental demonstration of the foregoing theoretical predictions, whereby laboratory-pure solid marble (CaCO3), iron oxide (FeO), wet with triple-distilled water, are subjected to pressures up to 50 kbar and temperatures to 2000 C. With no contribution of either hydrocarbons or biological detritus, the CaCO3-FeO-H2O system spontaneously generates, at the high pressures predicted theoretically, the suite of hydrocarbons characteristic of natural petroleum.

4.2 The economic publications.

The second main group of papers deals with the important issues connected with the economic consequences of modern Russian petroleum science. In these papers are reviewed both some of the pseudo-economic fables (e.g., “the human race is going to run out of natural petroleum”) which have been traditionally connected with the error that petroleum is some sort of “fossil fuel,” for reason (supposedly) of having evolved from biological detritus, - albeit in violation of the laws of chemical thermodynamics.

4.3 The political and sociological essays.

The third main group of papers deals with diverse sociological and political aspects which have involved the modern Russian -Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins, and which have too often obstructed persons, and governments, in the U.S.A. from learning it. In this section, are examples of some of the published efforts to misrepresent modern Russian petroleum science.

The modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins is extraordinary in almost every way, including the bizarre circumstance that it has been the object of probably the most daring attempt of plagiarism in modern science. The attempted plagiarism of modern Russian petroleum science is reviewed also in this section.

© Copyright 1996-1999, 2000-2006, J. F. Kenney;
republished by courtesy of the author

(*) Gas Resources Corporation, 11811 North Freeway, Houston , TX 77060, U.S.A.



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For Further Exploration
“Economic Publications”

Radio Talk about an Article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences