a review of the past may make us better geologists in the future.
on Origin of Petroleum; Occurrence of Hydrocarbons in Recent Sediments,"
by P.V. Smith, Esso, appeared in the AAPG BULLETIN, Vol. 38, 1954.
" ... It
seems plausible to suggest that petroleum is being formed in the
present era and that the crude product is nature's composite of
the hydrocarbon remains of many forms of marine life."
a very thorough piece of work, documenting that hydrocarbon molecules
from recently living cells are abundantly dispersed in many muddy
techniques of the time suggested a similarity between these hydrocarbons
and crude oils. Many geologists and geochemists seized on this work
to pronounce that the problem of the origin of petroleum had been
solved, and the only remaining questions involved collection and
migration of these recent hydrocarbons to traps.
this was a major misdirection. Within a decade, gas chromatographic
analytical techniques determined that these hydrocarbon molecules
from recent organisms differed fundamentally from the hydrocarbons
characterizing all crude oils. The hydrocarbons in crude oil were
shown to be identical to those produced by the thermal cracking
of organic matter buried deeply in the earth.
that crude oil is a composite of hydrocarbon debris from recently
living organisms seemed to fit the available evidence, but ... it
it is a good reminder to us that it is easy to create a hypothesis
that fits the data -- but fitting the available data doesn't mean
that the hypothesis is true.