For AAPG member Vladimir Serebryakov, a Utah resident but also a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Science, the nature of the oil and gas business is the business of nature itself.
“The question of oil and gas origin is a fundamentally unresolved phenomenon,” he says, “and the world’s energy future depends on it.”
And he believes the conversation needs to continue.
“Over the last hundred years,” he says, perhaps anticipating the obvious response from many – most? – of his peers, “this problem has not been solved in the debate between supporters of the ‘organic’ and ‘inorganic’ hypotheses.”
In fact, most scientists believe in the organic theory; as such, industry leans in that direction – as does the money.
There have been others in the industry, though (Russian scientists and the late Cornell University physicist Thomas Gold, to name a few), who believed there was much to be learned about and ultimately extracted from the inorganic.
Serebryakov, along with partners Azary A. Barenbaum, Alexander V. Serebryakov, Ernest S. Zakirov and Sumbat N. Zakirov, has been among them.
But, he insists, he’s not siding with Gold and the others in the abiogenic camp in the traditional “how is oil formed” question.
He is suggesting – and working toward proving – something completely different.
And the results of his research on this, he feels, are promising.
“The work,” he said of his research, “points to the conclusion that oil and gas formation is not a lengthy geological process but rather a natural phenomenon dependent on geochemical circulation of movable carbon and water through the earth’s surface.”
The bottom line: “The biospheric concept scientifically substantiates that oil and gas are ‘renewable’ mineral resources.”
Just Add Water
Serebryakov came to the United States in 1991, at the invitation of the University of Wyoming, to research abnormal formation pressures in oil and gas reservoirs. Since 1994 he has worked with oil companies in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and the Republic of Dagestan, Russia.
In 1997 he was elected as a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences for his scientific advances in the oil and gas industry.
“In contrast to Gold and the Russian scientists – the (debate between) biogenic and abiogenic hypotheses – the biosphere concept considers oil and gas as necessary products occurring by carbons moving through the earth’s surface via meteogenic waters.”
Here, Serebryakov says, is the difference in what the abiogenic proponents preach and what he believes:
♦ The abiogenic hypothesis suggests that oil and gas originated from the depths of the earth as a result of the evolution of the Earth and deep degassing from the deep subsurface by deep faults – “where water and magma synthesizes petroleum hydrocarbons,” he said.
♦ The biosphere concept, in contrast, suggests that oil and gas are necessary products created by the transfer of movable carbon through the earth’s surface via meteogenic waters.
“This process is associated with the geochemical cycling of carbon and water moving through the earth’s surface,” he said. “For example, water and CO2 (carbonated water) starts above earth’s surface and moves down through the earth while encountering metals/minerals.
“The laboratory experiments have shown that this synthesis can initiate at even normal (room) temperature and pressures,” he said.
His belief: The formation of oil and gas is not only a geological process that occurs very slowly in geologic time, but also a more rapid biospheric process related to the circulation of water and carbon through the earth’s surface.
The Shorter Fuse
Serebryakov has published four books and over 100 articles on subjects of oil and gas, including the concept of climatic cycle of pore water in the interior of the earth’s crust associated with the migration and accumulation of hydrocarbons.
“As carbon moves through the earth’s surface – coming in contact with living organisms and mineral components – its chemical form and isotopic composition changes,” he said. “Above the earth’s surface, which plays the role of geochemical barrier, carbon circulates predominantly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), and under it, through polycondensation reaction (catalytic synthesis), it is reduced to hydrocarbons.”
Because of their low solubility in water, hydrocarbons form a separate phase, he said, which accumulate as oil and/or gas in their own geological structures or traps.
“In accordance with the biospheric cycle, the estimated time for carbon to move through the earth’s surface within the boundaries of continents is as rapidly as 40 years,” he said.
It is possible, then, for hydrocarbons to begin accumulating during this timeframe.
That, according to Serebryakov, should give some in the industry pause.
“Since oil and gas accumulates in geological structures or traps, it would suggest that using fracing, which can destroy these traps, notwithstanding time value of money, would not be beneficial in the long term,” he said.
Of course, the use of hydraulic fracturing is like the third rail of oil and gas production – and Serebryakov just jumped up and down on it.
Further, he knows that full implementation and testing of his theory – not to mention the industry’s cost of shifting its present focus – will only get more expensive as the work progresses.
And don’t even begin to ask about the criticism his theory will receive from the “peak oil” crowd.
But Serebryakov is undeterred – led by his son, Alexander “Sasha” Serebryakov, he and his colleagues have secured patents this year for their company, Galadigma, “Method of Hydrocarbons and Hydrogen Production From Water and Carbon Dioxide.”
Their work continues. Enthusiastically.