Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Latest Entrant into the Renewable Energy Armory

Would you believe that petroleum and natural gas are now thought to be "renewable energy sources"? Here's a bit from a post on Geoffrey Styles' Energy Outlook blog:
However, there's another, more controversial theory of the origins of at least some oil and gas, suggesting that they were formed by chemical or biological activity much deeper in the earth, and then migrated long distances before being trapped. If correct, that would mean that not only aren't these fuels truly fossils--and thus essentially static and finite--but that they might actually be continuously regenerated by natural processes in much shorter time spans. A number of academics appear to hold this view, and it was a common theory of petroleum origin among Soviet scientists. Much of this is explored in a lengthy white paper on the Deep Carbon Observatory site, including the shortcomings of current analytical techniques in determining definitively whether a given sample of methane originated from organic material in sedimentary rock or from some other source.

Finding gas or oil in deposits much deeper than those we already know about, or in places that aren't consistent with our present understanding of petroleum geology, would represent an even bigger potential energy revolution than the one begun by the recent development of the means of unlocking shale gas resources. It would also shift our perspective on the nature and required speed of the energy transition on which we've embarked. If oil and gas weren't finite--at least in human terms--it might alter the urgency of deploying some of the alternative energy technologies now in our repertoire. At the same time, it would have enormous implications for climate change, by greatly increasing the ultimate quantity of carbon we could eventually emit to the atmosphere.
I enjoy stories like this because they show that all the "sure thing" thinking that most people have never acknowledges how little we really know and how much science can revolutionize our thinking.

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