Loyal Atomic Insights readers might wonder why it’s been more than a week since I last wrote a post here. Those who follow @atomicrod on Twitter might have noticed a few hints about what I’ve been busily doing for the last ten days or so.
It seems likely to me that Thomas Gold, Dimitri Mendeleev, Nikolai Alexandrovitch Kudryavtsev and a host of other Russian and Ukrainian scientists were/are correct in their hypothesis that hydrocarbons are a primal material that does not require a biological process based on captured sunlight through photosynthesis.
There may be no fundamental limitations to the size of the hydrocarbon resource available here on Earth. If the theories hold true, and so far I have not found any fundamental flaws in the evidence they have cited and proofs that they offer, then petroleum and methane are not fossil fuel whose overall resource on Earth is finite. If the abiotic oil theory is correct, human progress and prosperity are not limited by the amount of decaying plant, plankton and animal matter was rolled into the Earth’s crust and pressed and baked into liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons.
Instead, the Earth contains all of the burnable hydrocarbons we will ever need to perform those tasks that cannot be done with atomic fission or that cannot be done well with atomic fission.
Preference for abundant energy
Confession: I’ve been interested in empowering people for many years. I’m not a fan of energy austerity and I do not consider efficiency or conservation energy sources. Though I’m somewhat more careful than the star of the below clip, I think society needs more power, not less, if it is going to thrive now and in the future.
In 1973, I learned a bit about the importance of petroleum to the American way of life and our general prosperity. Selfishly, I also determined that I was very interested in finding ways to ensure that I always had access to sufficient quantities of the fuel required to power my preferred lifestyle, hobbies and travels without waiting in line for hours at a time.
During my professional career, I learned a great deal about actinide fission, a compact, abundant energy producing process that can do almost anything that hydrocarbon combustion can do and do it better. I’ve also learned and written about the ways that the incomparable abundance of atomic energy has been the source of much of the opposition to its development.
There are some people who dislike and distrust most other human beings. They believe that giving people outside of their own circles access to unlimited power is a terrible thing. There are others who don’t mind selling power to people, but they certainly don’t want their fuel products to be made worth far less through what they would consider to be a vast oversupply — aka a permanent glut.
I also recognize that there are drawbacks associated with burning fuel and using the atmosphere as a waste dump.
However, even I am hard pressed to envision ways to use atomic energy to propel personal-sized ground transportation, watercraft smaller than commercial-sized ships or any kind of aircraft, whether personal, mid-sized or gigantic.
All of those power uses are not only important to me, they are popular and important to a large segment of the world’s population.
Even if hydrocarbons are abundant, shouldn’t we still leave them in the ground?
I’ve studied enough chemistry, physics, thermodynamics and weather to recognize that it’s possible to burn hydrocarbons so cleanly that the only waste products are CO2 and H2O, but both of those are inevitably the result of oxidizing any kind of HxCx molecule. Like many who are concerned about climate change, I believe that stabilizing CO2 in the atmosphere is important.
Unlike many climate concerned individuals, including several deeply respected colleagues, I don’t agree that stabilization or even moderate reductions in atmospheric CO2 would require us to eliminate hydrocarbon burning. There are ways to make room for a certain amount of atmospheric waste discharge without increasing the total concentration. There are both proven and yet-to-be-proven ways to capture and reuse CO2. (I’m not a fan of trying to sequester the potentially useful material deep underground for some of the same reasons that I object to deep geologic disposal of used nuclear fuel.)
According to a number of sources that I’ve found so far, geologists have dismissed the abiotic oil theory as having insufficient proof. I tend to believe that is due either to being trapped in a certain paradigm by their training and education or, in some select cases, to their recognition that an inexhaustible source of hydrocarbons widely distributed all over the world is a severe threat to their income, wealth and power.
There is still research remaining before I’m ready to write an explanation of the theory and its challenging path to acceptance. I have a couple of books on order, including Thomas Gold’s The Deep Hot Biosphere and a few papers to locate. There’s still lots of reading and synthesizing to be done.
In the meantime, I thought I would solicit help and commentary from some of the smartest people I know.
What do you think? Has Atomic Rod stepped off a cliff into a darkness populated by conspiracy nuts? Is widespread understanding of the existence of abiotic hydrocarbons that might change the way that the world works and the way that people think about their own future prospects?
Does the suppression and discrediting of the abiotic oil theory from the geology profession have any relationship to the way that official, well-funded organizations cling to the “no safe dose of radiation” assumption?