How Old is Oil?

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Creation geologists believe oil formed as a result of the massive burial of animal and plant matter at the time of Noah’s Flood. Tar or bitumen is mentioned in the Bible about 100 years after the Flood. So, within 100 years, some underground oil had formed and migrated to the surface.

Other geologists believe oil deposits were formed by burial of plants and animals in repeated smaller floods occurring over millions of years. But does it take millions or even a hundred thousand years to generate an oil deposit?

Nope. In 2013, engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory transformed harvested algae into crude oil in less than one hour. Although this occurred in perfect laboratory conditions, there’s no reason to think oil couldn’t have developed much faster than millions or even thousands of years.

But do we have reason to question why geologists think our oil reserves are millions of years old? Yes. Oil is an organic compound which quickly degrades due to bacterial action. In fact, biodegraded oils are common, such as oil from the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the tar sands in Alberta. How could these oil fields have survived the constant assault of bacteria for a million years?

To address this issue, some scientists hypothesize that a process, called paleosterilization, can stop biodegradation in oil reserves at temperatures over 176 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this seems unlikely since bacteria thrive all over the earth in temperatures as high as 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Not to mention the fact that groundwater would continually bring in new sources of bacteria.

So, how long would it take for the oil to form and migrate through the rock to the oil reservoirs we find it in today? Unfortunately, little is known about hydrocarbon migration. Oil is a large molecule and migrates slower than water (which moves through the pore space in rock on average 50 feet per year). But even at a slower rate, the evidence suggests oil could have easily migrated to reservoirs within a few centuries.

What do you think? Are our oil reserves relatively young? Do you remain unconvinced?

References: Clarey, Tim. “Rapidly Forming Oil Supports Flood Timeframe.” Acts & Facts. March 2014, 43 (3), p. 14.; and http://www.pnnl.gov/news/release.aspx?id=1029

Photo Credit: © Bulus | Dreamstime.comOil Pump Photo
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