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The Origin of Oil

Author : Education and Workshop Division SPE ITB SC

by: Teguh Tampubolon

Oil can be regarded as one of the economic regulator in the world. Lack of oil supply to a country can make a chaos in that country. In contrast, country that can produce a lot of oil, generally called a prosperous country. Based on United States Energy Information Administration, oil consumption rate in the world is approximately 87 megabarrelperday (mbpd) . If the total reserves of oil in the world is nearby 1,354 billion barrel(from 2009 Oil and Gas Journal) , then the oil will exhausted within 44 years.

future oil graph

From the the graph , it can  be seen, that in the future, people mostly rely on existing sources of oil compared  to the discovery of new fields or another method. So if the oil runs out, will the” black gold’s glory” come to an end?

People try to figure out how to deal with this condition. Various questions arise, including questions about the origin of the oil itself. If people say that oil comes from fossils, no one blamed them. If people say that oil comes from non-fossil, it is yet to be justified. “Something said to be true if there is no evidence to blame it or it is still accepted generally.”

Here is the explanation about the origin of the oil.

I.    Fossil as The Origin of the Oil

In the leading theory, this fossil fuel is formed when a large number of dead organism, like zooplankton and algae, buried under sediment rock and  undergo intense heat and pressure. Vast quantities of these organism remains settled to sea or lake bottoms, mixing with sediments and being buried under anoxic (deficiency of oxygen) conditions.  As further layers settled to the sea or lake bed, intense heat and pressure built up in the lower regions. This process caused the organic matter to change, first into a waxy material known as kerogen, which is found in various oil shales around the world, and then with more heat into liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons via a process known as catagenesis. The idea that petroleum is formed from dead organic matter is known as the “biogenic theory” and was first proposed by a Russian scientist Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov a Russian intellectual, in 1757.


As we know ‘now’,  fossils can only be found in sedimentary rocks. Along with that, reservoir present in sedimentary rocks.It was also found that, with a high temperature (150-200°C) and in the presence of aluminosilicate catalysts, hydrocarbons are generated from fatty and amino acids and from other components of the lipid fraction(this fraction is composed of substances which are common in living organisms and their remains)

II.    Non-Fossil as the Origin of the Oil

If it is called biogenic theory that states fossil is the origin of oil, then there is “Abiogenic Theory”. This theory states that oil is formed from non-biological source of hydrocarbon located deep in the earth’s crust and mantle. The founding father of this theory is Nikolai Alexandrovich, a Russian petroleum geologist, and stated this theory in 1951.

In 2009, researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm have managed to prove that ossils from animals and plants are not necessary for crude oil and natural gas to be generated. This is surprisingly denied the Biogenic Theory. If abiogenic petroleum sources are indeed found to be abundant, it would mean Earth contains vast reserves of untapped petroleum and, since other rocky objects formed from the same raw material as Earth, that crude oil might exist on other planets or moons in the solar system. “Using our research we can even say where oil could be found in Sweden,” says Vladimir Kutcherov, a professor at the Division of Energy Technology at KTH.

Together with two research colleagues, Vladimir Kutcherov has simulated the process involving pressure and heat that occurs naturally in the inner layers of the earth, the process that generates hydrocarbon, the primary component in oil and natural gas.According to Vladimir , the findings are a clear indication that the oil supply is not about to end, which researchers and experts in the field have long feared. “There is no doubt that our research proves that crude oil and natural gas are generated without the involvement of fossils. All types of bedrock can serve as reservoirs of oil,” says Vladimir Kutcherov, who adds that this is true of land areas that have not yet been prospected for these energy sources.

oil migration

Experiments have shown that under extereme conditions of heat and pressure, it is possible to convert iron oxide,calcium carbonate,and water into methane. The theory, in simplest form, is that carbon present in the magma beneath the crust react with hydrogen to form methane as well as a raft of other mainly alkane hydrocarbons. The absence of free gaseous oxygen in the magma prevents the hydrocarbon from burning.

In conclusion, it does not matter whether the origin of the oil is from fossil or not. Advances in technology could even prove that both theories are correct. What we must do now  are to find another reserves, continue to develop the enhancement in oil recovery, and to find any other alternatives source of energy to fulfill human needs in energy.

Institute of Geology and Exploration of Fuels (IGZRGI) and colleagues.
A POSSIBLE ORIGIN OF OIL by Colin C, Rae, Denver, Colo. (New York Meeting, February, 1922)

12 thoughts on “The Origin of Oil”

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