Lawrence Solomon - September 12, 2009
Russian research has shown that the Earth doesn’t need dinosaurs to produce oil
Do dead dinosaurs fuel our cars? The assumption that they do, along with other dead matter thought to have formed what are known as fossil fuels, has been an article of faith for centuries. Our geologists are taught fossil fuel theory in our schools; our energy companies search for fossil fuels by divining where the dinosaurs lay down and died. Sooner or later, we will run out of liquefied dinosaurs and be forced to turn to either nuclear or renewable fuels, virtually everyone believes.
Except in Russia and Ukraine. What is to us a matter of scientific certainty is by no means accepted there. Many Russians and Ukrainians — no slouches in the hard sciences — have since the 1950s held that oil does not come exclusively, or even partly, from dinosaurs but is formed below the Earth’s 25-mile deep crust. This theory — first espoused in 1877 by Dmitri Mendeleev, who also developed the periodic table — was rejected by geologists of the day because he postulated that the Earth’s crust had deep faults, an idea then considered absurd. Mendeleev wouldn’t be vindicated by his countrymen until after the Second World War when the then-Soviet Union, shut out of the Middle East and with scant petroleum reserves of its own, embarked on a crash program to develop a petroleum industry that would allow it to fend off the military and economic challenges posed by the West.
Today, Russians laugh at our peak oil theories as they explore, and find, the bounty in the bowels of the Earth. Russia’s reserves have been climbing steadily — according to BP’s annual survey, they stood at 45 billion barrels in 2001, 69 billion barrels in 2004, and 80 billion barrels of late, making Russia an oil superpower that this year produced more oil than Saudi Arabia. Some oil auditing firms estimate Russia’s reserves at up to 200 billion barrels. Despite Russia’s success in exploration, most of those in the west who have known about the Russian-Ukrainian theories have dismissed them as beyond the Pale. This week, the Russian Pale can be found awfully close to home.