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By Richard Gunther


A letter to the author of an article about oil.

Dear Oilman,

I was interested to read your article in the latest Canterbury Farming newspaper, about how people used to gather and use oil in the past. I would have liked to have seen a larger diagram of the fractionating tower with more information about the types of oil which are drawn off, but what you put into the article was worth a read.

I also noticed how carefully you introduced the article, by saying that "scientists believe that oil came originally from . . ." Did you word it that way because you know about other explanations for the origin of oil - or was it just good luck? You may or may not know that there are many scientists who believe in other processes involved in the formation of oil, who's views differ greatly to their colleagues.

One view of the origin of oil is the millions-of-years scenario, as you described. It sounds logical and reasonable, and it is probably the most widely accepted view. I was brought up on it through all my school years, and I have rarely seen any objections to it. Given the fact that oil is buried under many layers of sedimentary rock, it would appear that slow processes over many millions of years are the cause.

The main alternative view is that oil (and coal) formed as the result of a catastrophic event, which formed the deposits very quickly. I think this view is worth considering because the same evidence which is used to support the millions-of-years point of view is also applicable to the rapid deposit view.

The millions-of-years view is based on several assumptions. One of these assumptions is that vast amounts of plants and animals - of which oil is comprised - were buried slowly and gradually covered by sediment - a process which apparently is not going on today.

Neither oil nor coal are forming anywhere in the world in the enormous amounts in which we find it. The assumption that the process was slow and gradual is rather self-defeating because the captured oil would have been lost through leakage if the process was slow (Millions of years). If, on the other hand, the process was rapid, we have the problem of quantity. When we see the enormous lakes of oil under the ground, this implies a vast amount of animal and vegetable matter gathered quickly before decomposition could occur, and 'capped' to prevent its escape by numerous layers of hardening sediment. Today we do not see vast amounts of animal and vegetable matter gathering together in anticipation of a quick burial, which is why the catastrophic view tends to make more sense of the evidence.

Another assumption is that oil takes millions of years for oil to form. Even this view is contradicted regularly by home-gardeners. A pile of poorly-ventilated compost can change into sticky, black oil (under suitable conditions) within a few weeks. You may find this example laughable, but the following one is more in line with this discussion:

I noticed in the news recently that a Western Australian firm is setting up a business which makes oil from sewage sludge. The sludge is heated without oxygen to 450 degrees C in one reactor, then in the second reactor, the resultant vapours are allowed to contact the 'char' residue from the first. This speeds up their breakdown into a diesel grade fuel oil.

No outside substances are added throughout the process, which thus involves heating without oxygen. The plant, which will run on its own product, will produce a net surplus of fuel.

The technology, described as one that "mimics nature" produces oil "in much the same way that nature produces oil . . . (but) it is completed in around 30 minutes instead of millions of years."

(From the Australian Stock Exchange Release, Environmental Solutions International Ltd. Osborne Park, Western Australia, Oct. 25th 1996)

As you said in your article, natural oil is also believed to be formed from heating of hydrocarbons. Organic matter buried deep within the ground, in the absence of oxygen, is often exposed to elevated temperatures. This simple heating technology reaffirms that millions of years are totally unnecessary, given the right conditions. A catastrophe could produce oil (and coal) in a matter of years, given the right conditions.

Oil is called a fossil fuel because it comprises matter which was once alive but was, at some point in time, buried and 'sealed' from the normal process of decomposition. Built into the word 'fossil' is the word 'ancient', but this is an assumption.

Carbon-dating of fossils and of contemporary items has produced so much variation as to negate the reliability of the dating method. (I can give you numerous examples of this if required), and what commonly happens is that a circular argument arises, in which the fossils are dated according to the assumption that the rocks in which they appear are 'x' number of millions of years old . . . and the rocks are dated according to the assumption that the fossils which they contain are 'x' number of millions of years old.

A closed circle of reasoning arises, in which there is no room for the alternative view that fossils may be much younger than we think. Having excluded this alternative view, people follow the assumptions along and also exclude the possibility that fossils, fossil fuels and present-day rock-formation may be the result of a catastrophe, rather than a millions-of-years process. This single-eyed world view is both unscientific and prejudiced, since the same evidence which both views deal with can be interpreted in at least two different ways.

The fact that oil deposits may be evidence for a young, rather than an ancient earth, contradicts most people's view of the world, but consider these points :

1. If oil deposits are as old as some say, is it not a wonder that they are still there? Leaking, over millions of years, should have reduced the deposits substantially, but the sedimentary cover is still intact.

2. The size of oil deposits implies a vast amount of original material, which, under present conditions, would have decomposed too rapidly before effective burial to occur.

3. The presence of whole trees (often standing vertically through the seams) in coal deposits implies massive, and rapid burial, rather than a gradual accumulation of dead or decaying wood. Present-day forests are not forming coal, so it would seem that a great amount of wood had to be buried and covered rapidly before normal decomposition occurred - some time in the past.

4. The sedimentary layers under which oil is found are common over the whole planet. Other kinds of fossil are also found in these layers, such as limestone, which comprises enormous amounts of calciferous marine creatures, (The White Cliffs of Dover), and 'fossil graveyards' in which millions of creatures are found jumbled chaotically together.

The presence of these general sedimentary layers implies that, at some stage, a vast amount of water and sediment was moving over the surface of the planet - a view which supports the possibility of a catastrophe rather than millions-of-years. (For example the formation of the Grand Canyon, 100,000 square miles, with sedimentary layers running horizontally across the whole width of the canyon, shows that the whole area must have been laid down rapidly.*)

Throughout this letter I have tried to avoid dogmatism, so please forgive me if I have 'sounded' as if I know all the answers. I am simply trying to sort out the facts from the assumptions. The main purpose of my writing to you was to present to you some alternative views, which other people, better qualified and probably better informed, may like to consider.

Thank you for bearing with me.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Gunther


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