Friday, April 27, 2012

Weekly WTF: Oil, cover-ups and Nazis!


Occasionally when I search for oil, energy, climate etc. news I come across something really crazy that I havea true WTF moment.  So I figured that posting a Weekly WTF? would be a good way to lighten the mood at the end of a week discussing more serious matters. Plus there's the weak pun on the blog's name. So courtesy of The Oil Drum I present a story involving infinite oil supplies, government cover-ups, corporate manipulations… and Nazis.

The craziest thing is how this wacky fable flies in the face of both current issues in Pennsylvania and a big part of the commonwealth’s history.  So first a little background. The unconventional gas deposits of the Marcellus shale are not the only hydrocarbons found in Pennsylvania’s bedrock, the state has long been an important source of all types of fossil fuel.  Coal of course comes to mind, with the vast deposits of bituminous coal in the west and hard coal or anthracite in the east. But lest we forget, Pennsylvania was also the birthplace of America’s petroleum industry, with Drake’s well being drilled in Titusville in 1859. In fact, long before anyone thought of getting gas from the tight black shales of the Marcellus, conventional oil and gas reserves formed the basis of a thriving Pennsylvania petroleum boom (Quaker State Oil anyone?). 

Now take a look at the maps below of the geologic provinces, oil and gas areas, and coal deposits in the state:
Physiographic provinces of PA, Appalachian Plateau is sedimentary (click image for larger version)
Conventional oil and gas deposits (click image or link here for larger version)
Coal deposits (click image or link here for larger version)
With the exception of the eastern anthracite fields, what all these hydrocarbon resources have in common is their association with the western Appalachians, which are comprised of sedimentary rocks. This only makes sense, as fossils fuels are formed from biological remains (oil and NG from marine algae and coal from  woody plants) buried in the crust at just the right temperatures and pressures. And these remains would be preserved along with layers of sand silt,mud etc that become, you guessed it, sedimentary rock.  The anthracite fields are in sedimentary rocks that were later metamorphosed at higher temperatures, a process that converted the soft coals into high carbon hard coal.  At metamorphic Ts and Ps any oil and gas would have been thermally decomposed and destroyed.

Now what I just described is the biogenic explanation (or scientific theory) for the formation of fossil fuels and this explanation has been tested again repeatedly around the world and forms the basis of where companies explore for oil and gas.  But at one time there were alternate abiogenic hypotheses (untested explanations) that invoked hydrocarbon origins from inorganic sources deep in the crust or even the mantle. In the 20th century these hypotheses were pushed mainly by Soviet scientists and Austro-British contrarian astrophysicist Thomas Gold (who also thought the moon was covered by a soft fluffy powder that would swallow Apollo lunar landers).  These hypotheses have been thoroughly debunked, as summarized by Glasby in Resource Geology in 2006.  

But as is the cases in much of life, some cannot accept reality and prefer the more exciting drama-filled realm of alternate ideas “suppressed” by conspiracy.  And that’s where our inaugural Weekly WTF? comes in.  Thestory I picked up from the Oil Drum originated from that fount of insanity, World Net Daily*.  It seems that Jerome Corsi (yeah that guy) has written a book with the horrible-crazy title The Great Oil Conspiracy: How the U.S. Government Hid the Nazi Discovery of Abiotic Oil from the American People that “asks how did the dinosaurs that died and became part of those ‘fossil fuels’ get to be tens of thousands of feet under the surface? That’s just one of the many questions addressed in the book that takes many traditional beliefs about oil – it’s finite, it’s made through the process of various life forms dying and decaying, and others – and explains that they are just wrong. “  

Sooo... apparently hydrocarbons are produced in the mantle by a mechanism similar to the Fischer–Tropsch
similar to the one used by those wacky Nazis to make synthetic fuel, this much comes from others and not Corsi.  What Corsi does is take this abiogenic hypothesis and says that the Nazis discovered the "truth" of fossil fuel origins, the government discovered this from captured Nazi papers and they and the oil companies have been hiding the truth ever since. It follows from their logic that all the money and time spent on geologic research and exploration by surveys and oil companies has been just a sham to cover-up the truth about infinite supplies of cheap oil and gas that could be tapped almost anywhere. In other words, the distribution of fossil fuels in Pennsylvania has nothing to do with those tested geological relations I described and one could conceivably drill for oil in the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens in the highly metamorphosed rock here in Chester County.  There would also be no rationale for hydrofracking the Marcellus Shale, since that couldn’t be the source rock for natural gas. BTW I sincerely hope no anti-fracking activists fall for this nonsense based on that idea! Needless to say, they presented their "evidence" on the tinfoil hat fave Coast to Coast AM.  The fact that Corsi thinks the accepted explanation invokes mysteriously burying dinosaurs shows he knows as much about resource geology as I know about, I don't know, cricket (something to do with guys in white playing a very slow bat and ball game I think).

In the end, I wonder why they went with hydrocarbons for a source of abundant cheap energy that is being kept from us.  They could’ve skipped all the associated mess and pollution and just gone with simple, clean cold fusion.

*Just want to be clear, I’m not a regular reader of WND!

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