Unlimited supplies spark global turmoil
- 15. September 2008
Conventional wisdom has long held that oil and gas arose from the remains of plants and animals buried millions of years ago. We now know that oil and gas can be formed abiotically by subterranean heat and pressure, and that the earth contains a virtually endless supply - oil is the new "renewable" energy.
Yesterday's oil industry conference in Dallas sparked a new battle of words between OPEC and Russian and Canadian oilfield operators. It appears to be a life and death struggle to shrink oil markets. Fuel cell futures plummeted and platinum hit a 15-year low.
A state of emergency was declared in Saudi Arabia after weeks of unrest. Tens of thousands of migrant workers who have lost their jobs are demanding their return home, mainly to Pakistan and India. Locals are lining up to join extremist organizations and police appear to have lost control of some key centres.
Read the full story in the Detailed Analysis/Synthesis section.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How did this scenario come about
Petroleum contains 85% carbon, 13% hydrogen and 0.5% oxygen with traces of sulfur and nitrogen. Most chemists believed it formed from the decomposition of organic matter - layers formed from the remains of dead animals. Hence the name “fossil fuel”. By definition, its source was limited.
This theory was plausible when oil wells were drilled into the fossil layers of the earth's crust; but if the oil is from "rock below ground," a mile below the surface, it is well below the fossil bed.
Despite conventional wisdom regarding fossil fuels, the case for non-biological oil was not new. In 1951, Russian scientist N.A. Kudryavtsev promulgated the theory that deep oil is produced abiotically. His theories were reinforced with the exploration of the Dneiper-Donets oil fields in the early 1990s.
World-renowned geologist C. Warren Hunt's 1996 "anhydride" theory asserted the idea of biogenesis from living microbial forms as opposed to fossil forms.
If the oil is constantly being topped up, why would it leak?
2002: Discoveries of the world's largest oil reserves
The Athabasca oil sands field in northeastern Alberta, Canada, is considered the world's largest oil well. Beneath Alberta's tar sands, at a depth of 7,200 feet, lies the world's largest hydrocarbon deposit. It is estimated that the fields contain 1.7 trillion barrels of oil.
2003: Cracks appear in the fossil fuel case
People are beginning to wonder if Earth's oil and gas reserves were much greater than previously thought -- and if supplies could be constantly being replenished.
Some scientists are beginning to speculate that petroleum could be formed "abiotically" from minerals at extremes of temperature and pressure. The idea is that the high temperature and pressure near Earth's mantle allow oil to form inorganically rather than through biodegradation. Water forces it to the surface since it is denser; Oil rises and becomes trapped in layers of impermeable sedimentary rock.
Scientists at the Gas Resources Corporation in Houston mimic conditions more than 100 km below the surface of the earth, heating marble, iron oxide and water to about 1,500 °C and 50,000 times atmospheric pressure. The theory stands the test and solves many unsolved problems in petroleum science.
The White Tiger Fields off the coast of Vietnam (discovered in the 1970s) have become the focus of scientific attention as explorers drill a mile into massive granite for oil - deeper than ever and well below known fossil deposits. They begin to produce 338,000 barrels of oil per day. These new "non-fossil" fields are estimated to contain an additional 600 million barrels.
Fortune Magazine publishes your article 'Endless Oil?'.
2005: New tests prove validity of "non-fossil matter" claims.
Extensive geological surveys by Shell and BP presented at the (scientific symposium) in New York confirm that the source of the newly discovered oil reserves is "non-fossil"!
US oil production plummets as the impact of lower prices feeds into economic reality.
2006: Oil price fluctuations in Russia
This has been a bad year for oil. Not only were theories about vast untapped oil reserves proving true, but Russian and Canadian producers took OPEC's unwritten rules into their own hands and pushed the effective market price of oil down to around $15 a barrel. In an attempt to position themselves competitively against the expected future price of oil, they established themselves as the preferred supplier for European companies and alienated the OPEC cartel.
The US is torn between its traditional affiliation with Saudi Arabia (and implicitly OPEC), its European trading allies and its new best friend Russia.
OPEC maintains new price level of $25, but demand for OPEC oil eases as Canadian reserves open.
2008: Political unrest in Saudi Arabia
With falling oil prices, Saudi Arabia's huge immigrant population has been encouraged to return to the Indian subcontinent as Saudis clamor for jobs. Young Saudis, now poorer than ever and without job opportunities, seek alliances with radical radical movements. All are enemies: the state, the king and America.
The Norwegian economy, still almost 50% dependent on oil-related industries, is on the brink of bankruptcy.
2010: Middle East terrorism spreads around the world
Domestic terrorism is sweeping across the Middle East as the oil economy falters, creating significant economic, political and social instability across the region.
American embassies are closed as America fully switches to Canadian and Russian oil.
Major terrorist attacks in San Francisco and Mayfair in London.
2013: The UN intervenes to stabilize oil prices
The airline industry loses half of its passengers in just 12 months. International tourism is imploding. Amid desperate negotiations to end seemingly uncontrollable terrorism, the UN passes a resolution calling for a $15 floor price for oil. With the aim of bringing the world economic system into balance, the resolution is passed with few abstentions.
2015: The world settles into an energy surplus
Motor vehicles accounted for more than 50% of oil consumption in 2000, now that figure has fallen to 25%. Access to huge hydrogen reservoirs in the earth's crust has given fuel cell technology an unexpected boost in recent years. With the new “fixed” oil price, governments are stepping in to support the fuel cell industry and prevent future oil blackmail.
2020: The end of the oil age
Half of all cars sold use alternative fuel sources. The world has broken the backbone of its dependence on oil.
Some Middle Eastern countries now have thriving non-oil economies.
International action against terrorism has brought enormous benefits.
A bit of normality is returning to the global economy.
- March 25, 2004
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Links to related stories
- "Fossil fuel without fossils," Nature, Science Update, August 14, 2002
- The Origin of Oil in the Earth's Crust, Thomas Gold, 1993
- The Deep Hot Biospere - a book by Thomas Gold
- Abiotic Oil: Commentary by Bruce Bartlett
- 'The Trillion-Barrel Tar Pit (non-Canada)', Wired Magazine, July 2004
- Hydrocarbons In The Deep Earth?, National Science Foundation, Washington DC, 14. September 2004
- In just 50 years we could cure our oil addiction - New Scientist, October 9, 2004
Warning: Dangerous thinking at work
Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and will not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictional and uniquely designed to explore possible futures, challenging and stimulating strategic thinking. Use them at your own risk. Any reference to actual persons, organizations or events is allegorical only. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Duplication or distribution is only permitted with acknowledgment of copyright and inclusion of this disclaimer.
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