|MadSci Network: Earth Sciences|
Dear Sir: Thank you for your question about Dr. Gold's theory of the inorganic origin of hydrocarbons. There are always in science theories proposed that are at odds with prevailing ideas. These theories are commonly considered to be "crackpot" ideas and many of them prove to be wrong. Of course, some turn out to be right, and one of the most famous is Wegener's theory of continental drift which has become the modern theory of plate tectonics. Dr. Gold's theory is still in that gray area populated by unusual theories that have not yet been proven wrong or right. The well was indeed drilled in the Siljan Ring, but as far as I am aware the results were inconclusive (as I think they were likely to be, given the nature of the theory and the nature of the test). Why is Dr. Gold's theory considered a crackpot idea? Wegener's theory of continental drift was dismissed because neither he nor anyone else could come up with a plausible mechanism for how the continents could move. Once the mechanisms were discerned, the theory was readily accepted. Gold's theory is a little different. We have a well-established mechanism for the generation of hydrocarbons from decaying organic matter. It can be proven experimentally that this process works, and it has been proven many times. Also, the predictions derived from this theory have led to the successful discovery of many hydrocarbon fields. This is the ultimate practical test of a scientific theory: it makes successful predictions. Dr. Gold's contention is that much, or perhaps most, hydrocarbons have a different sources. The trouble is, Dr. Gold's theory is very difficult to test (to prove or disprove). His source for hydrocarbons is deep, and therefore expensive to drill to. Also, there are many hydrocarbons in the earth system that are of undoubted organic origin for a whole host of reasons including their chemical composition. How are we to recognize hydrocarbons generated in a different way? It can be done, but it would not be easy. Most tellingly, because the theory of the organic origin of hydrocarbons permits the successful exploration for hydrocarbons, the oil companies are reluctant to spend money investigating an alternate theory. I do believe that Dr. Gold's theory will eventually be tested definitively. If it proves to be valid, then oil companies will be more than happy to test it further, develop it, and use it to find oil, as they have already done with the theory of organic origin of hydrocarbons. So, time will tell if Dr. Gold is right, but so far as I know no convincing evidence has yet emerged to support his theory. David C. Kopaska-Merkel Geological Survey of Alabama PO Box 869999 Tuscaloosa AL 35486-6999 (205) 349-2852 FAX (205) 349-2861
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