Bronze-level articleAbiotic oil

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The abiotic oil hypothesis is an attempt to explain the source and formation of petroleum. As the name suggests, the hypothesis proposes that oil originates from non-biological origins.

The hypothesis is mostly Soviet, mostly archaic, and mostly debunked. In the Anglophone world, abiotic oil proponents tend to cite the work of the late astrophysicist Thomas Gold.


Outline of the hypothesis

The theory's adherents believe that oil originated as carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas rising through the deep layers of the Earth's crust.[1] If this mixture was lucky enough to find zirconium-containing minerals, it could react and produce petroleum hydrocarbons. Some of these would move close enough to the surface to be exploitable by humanity.

This idea seems plausible because:

  • Carbon monoxide and hydrogen result from volcanic activity.
  • These chemicals will react and form petroleum under the right conditions.
    • Modern 'coal to liquids' and synthetic motor oil are based on hydrocarbon transversion.
  • Creationists said so.

Alternative scenario

  • Immanuel Velikovsky suggested in his book Worlds in Collision (1950) that oil was extraterrestrial in origin and came from comets.
  • Velikovsky follower Robert W. Felix puts his own spin on this with hydrocarbon nano-diamonds raining down from the sky as a result of pole shifts.

Results of application

No oil company has ever successfully found a well using the theory and it is generally considered pseudoscience on the order of global warming denial.[2] It originated in the Soviet Union, its major scientific supporters worked in Russia, and it has never gained a following anywhere outside the Soviet Union. Having largely passed with the USSR, it occasionally makes a comeback among less intellectual conservative elements,[3] where it is used as an excuse to continue ignoring the energy crisis of the future.[4] Russian creationists also favour it.

The Swedes, in fact, drilled in Siljan at Gold's behest and only came up with 80 barrels of oily sludge over a six year period, which easily may have been residue from oil lubricant used in the drilling machinery. Abiotic oil proponents, however, continue to cherry-pick minor increases in production at certain oil wells and declare it as "proof" of abiotic oil.[5]

External links


  1. The really cranky types will claim that the Earth's rotation propels these substances toward the surface of the crust.
  2. Speaking of which, it has regained currency to a degree among the more wingnutty global warming deniers.
  3. Having personally heard this entertained by the great Rush Limbaugh. Jerome Corsi has also recycled these old ideas into a book: Black Gold Stranglehold.
  4. Conservapædia on peak oil.
  5. No Free Lunch, Part 2: If Abiotic Oil Exists, Where Is It? by Dale Allen Pfeiffer
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