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Origin of petroleum and the formation of its deposits

M. E. Altovski, Z. I. Kuznetsova, R. M. Shvets

The great scientific and practical significance of the problems of petroleum genesis as well as their complexity and the difficulty of their solution are self-evident, and although much has been written on this topic each new study excites considerable interest.

It is, therefore, entirely natural that this book, in which (according to its title) the authors apply themselves to the solution of the most difficult problems of petroleum geology, should evoke intense interest among the readers. But, alas, a rude disenchantment soon overcomes the reader of the first few pages and does not abate until the end of the book.

We are told in the introduction (p. 3) that to solve the problem of petroleum genesis from the hydrogeologic point of view, we must first clarify the basic questions of petroleum hydrogeology. For example, we ought to dwell on the nature of oil-field waters, explain the reasons for their abnormally high or low formation pressures, understand their trace-element content, and so on. But, alas, the answers to these essential questions are not to be found in this book, and without them, as the authors tell us, we cannot approach the problems of petroleum genesis.

The book consits of two parts, unequal in size. In the first part, which makes up about 2/3 of the book, the overall problem of petroleum migration and accumulation is considered, but only 40 pages are devoted to the results of researches in the Grozny-Dagestan area which, according to the authors, are supposed to confirm theoretical conclusions.

Neither the arrangement of the book nor the contents of its parts indicate that the problem of petroleum genesis could be approached on a hydrogeologic basis, as the authors declare in the introduction.

The only reminder of hydrogeology is an elementary sketch of hydrogeologic zoning in the introduction, the kind that can be found in any textbook of hydrogeology.

Already in the introduction the authors commit a major error of methodology, which ultimately leads them to false theoretical conclusions. Concerning the ground water cycle the authors forget the enormous quantities of connate water which saturate sediments and often compose 25 to 60% of their volume. This water, as shown by the studies of W. W. Weber, H. M. Strakhov, P. V. Smith, and others, affects the development of all chemical and biochemical processes in the first stages of diagenesis.

All other chapters of the first part are written on the same pattern: First, a recitation of the viewpoints of various writers, and then a try by the authors to prove that their own idea is best of all, namely that oil was formed by concentration of organic substances formed from the decomposition of vegetation and carried down by ground waters.

We shall not take apart all chapters in detail. Suffice it to say that all assertations advanced by the authors are in contradiction with established fact.

Reading it all, we are reminded that not too long ago highly diverse arguments were advanced which purported to prove the impossibility of hydrocarbon formation under the conditions which prevail in the uppermost parts of the earth’s crust. Reality had a cruel laugh over all these scholastic elaborations. It was enough to perform some serious experiments to show the untenability of this position. The same applied to the question of source beds. This is an unknown field and serious experimental data are lacking. The researches of V. D. Lomtadze, after all, cannot solve all the questions. Any consideration of this problem, therefore, must be speculative.

So even a superficial analysis of hydrocarbon distribution shows that sandstones and siltstones are enriched in these components at the expense of argillaceous sediments during the early stages of diagenesis.

It is unfortunate that the authors do not consider the point of view that sandstones and siltstones can possibly play a role in oil formation.

Drawing on data 20-30 years in the past, the authors strive to prove that petroleum has no connection with dispersed organic matter and do not breathe a word of the work of N. B. Vassoevich, W. W. Weber, P. V. Smith, and others who have shown a genetic relation between those substances.

In the third chapter the authors interpret, from their point of view, the results of ground-water studies in the Grozny-Dagestan area. It becomes apparent, however, that these data contradict the authors’ hypothesis. From Figures 5 and 6 it is evident that the activity of bacteria gradually decreases from the areas of recharge to the areas of discharge and only some physiological groups, such as the desulfurizing bacteria, are a little more common in the deposits than in the regions of recharge and discharge.

Biogenic activity of bacteria cannot explain the formation of oil in such fields as Ozek-Suat in the northeastern Cis-Caucasus or the deposits in the Mexican depression where oil is found in zones where the temperature exceeds 100°C and where, therefore, no bacterial activity is possible.

In the fourth chapter the authors intended to consider the origin of oil deposits. In essence, this chapter is a poorly compiled review. Thus, for example, on p. 106 the authors present the results of C. P. Maximov (editor of Geologiya Nefti i Gaza, Translator’s Note) and report that this researcher reached the conclusion that the specific gravity of oil increases from east to west in the Devonian and Carboniferous deposits of Samar Luka, and on p. 119 ascribe to C. P. Maximov the essentially opposite point of view. They also show a sketch by C. P. Maximov (Figure 16) which totally contradicts the authors’s review of this researcher’s position.

All these mistakes could have been easily avoided had VSEGINGEO elected to work in the chosen direction not all alone, but in collaboration with the many institutes which are concerned with research on the origin of petroleum.

We must also note the carelessness which shows itself in the reviewed book. We have already referred to the contradictions between text and illustrations, the garbling of the views of particular researchers, etc.

Furthermore, the authors use the material of many writers but fail to note it in the list of references. So, for example, they omit reference to N. B. Vassoevich (p. 33), V. A. Uspenskii (p. 41), P. V. Smith (p. 41, 93) and others.

These shortcomings result largely from the obvious fact that the book was never critically reviewed.

Thus the book presents nothing new on the origin of petroleum and only adds to the list of those hopeless hypotheses which in their time were so severely ridiculed by I. M. Gubkin. One can only regret that VSEGINGEO and Gostoptekhizdat saw fit to publish a work which cannot receive serious consideration.

M. Kalinko

Acknowledgments and Associated Footnotes

Translated by H. Faul

M. E. Altovski: VSEGINGEO, Gostoptekhizdat, Moscow, 1958

Z. I. Kuznetsova: VSEGINGEO, Gostoptekhizdat, Moscow, 1958

R. M. Shvets: VSEGINGEO, Gostoptekhizdat, Moscow, 1958



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