2 Feb 2010

Peak Oil, the impossible hamster and abiotics!

A couple of weeks or so ago the District Council organised a Policy Seminar for councillors on energy - it was most thought-provoking although sadly too few councillors present - not even one representing the Labour group. I didn't agree with all - indeed one of the speakers was a planner for the nuclear industry. Anyway here is just a touch on a couple of issues that have led to discussion afterwards...

Photo: Lone ash near top of Ash Lane last week

One of the areas the seminar spent some time on was Peak Oil - a topic familiar to this blog (see recent post here) - I therefore wont go over it again in this post - the seminar certainly raised some key issues which we need to address urgently - anyway since the meeting there has been some interesting discussion amongst councillors about the issue - not all - indeed one email from a councillor in my mailbox written in capitals told me to stop including them in the discussion!

Abiotic theory

Anyway an article by Peter Odell was circulated by one councillor - it was an interesting addition to the debate – he is apparently a well known 'peak oil denier' but even he admits cheap oil is a finite resource. One area that he particularly has written about is the abiotic theory of oil formation:

An alternative theory of oil and gas futures is possible. This arises from the concept of oil and gas as renewable resources based on the “Russian-Ukrainian” theory of the origins of hydrocarbons. Let me explain this, based on the theory and practice developed by Dr. J.F. Kenny of the Gas Resources Corporation in Houston, US.
According to “standard” theory, oil is derived from biological material, i.e. from ancient fossilised organic materials. By contrast, the theory of abiogenic (abyssal, abiotic) petroleum holds that petroleum is a primordial material of deep origin which is transported at high pressure via ‘cold’ eruptive processes into the crust of the earth. This theory is derived from an extensive body of scientific knowledge covering the subjects of the chemical genesis of hydrocarbon molecules, the dynamical processes of the movement of that material into geological reservoirs of petroleum, and on the location of economically viable abiogenic petroleum. It is based not only upon extensive geological observations, but also upon rigorous and analytical physical reasoning. Much of the theory has developed from the sciences of chemistry and thermodynamics. Accordingly, the theory has steadfastly emerged as a central tenet in which the generation of hydrocarbons must conform to the general laws of chemical thermodynamics. With the exception of methane, petroleum has no intrinsic association with biological material. Peter Odell
My understanding is that abiotic (non biological) hydrocarbons exist, but mainly in the form of some methane and that there is very little evidence that more complex hydrocarbons can be cooked up deep in the earth. There is no evidence that abiotic hydrocarbons exist in sufficient quantity for commercial exploitation.

Indeed there is lots and lots of well understood science that solidly links oil and gas deposits with biotic formation (ie. formed from living matter buried by geological processes). The oil producing reservoirs in the North Sea and around the world are depleting and are not being refilled from deep below ground at any measurable rate - certainly not at a rate that is significant in terms of the volume of oil we are extracting. See Richard Heinberg (a peak oiler) - and his view on this here: www.energybulletin.net/node/2423

Underground Coal Gassification

At the Policy Seminar there was a comment from one member that the US is now getting 60% of it's gas from Underground Coal Gassification. I have since checked this with a number of people and circulated this comment to the members list - "it seems UCG exists currently only in a few trial plants. The US has upgraded its gas reserves based on this to include gas from coal and oil shales. However this is just another non conventional hydrocarbon source and 1) takes significantly more energy to produce the gas than conventional methods, 2) is much more expensive than conventional methods and 3) is very unlikely to ever achieve the flow rates required to meet current levels of gas demand."

Growth and fossil fuels

It is in some ways a pity we don't have time to talk more between Members - it is interesting to learn from the many different experiences - another comment made to the discussion was about accepting that we need to decouple GDP growth from fossil fuel usage. Of course as a Green I don't consider this goes far enough...we must decouple the economy from growth altogether!

At this point it would be right to ask if you seen the Impossible Hampster yet? If not go to:

And on a more serious note the new NEF report: Growth Isn't Possible:

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