Plenty of oil

Andarko’s deep sea drilling off the southeast of NZ has again brought out the debate about depletion of earth’s oil reserves. As ever, it is emotionally charged nonsense.

If you put a tiny seed the size of a grain of rice in the ground and wait, it will grow into a sizable plant, even a tree. Taking the products of ANY plant or tree and compressing them, yields oil. The miracle of gardening is that you can end up with a bucketful, all from that one tiny seed. The world is not running out of seeds, so we can ask where the oil in every plant came from.

It is impossible to get a bucketful from a seed, so the oil comes from hydrocarbons in the ground before the seed was planted. The cycle is germination, bloom, rot and decomposition: hydrocarbons create plants which create oil which breaks back down to hydrocarbons.

The fossil fuel argument says there are hydrocarbons in the earth due to the decomposition of plants and animals. But the argument omits explaining where the plants and animals came from.

There are two possibilities. Either hydrocarbons came with the formation of the earth 4.5 billion years ago and vegetation evolved later (geological science), or plants and animals were created at the same time as the earth (religion), and upon dying put hydrocarbons into the earth which eventually became oil fields.

If plants and animals came first, created by God, then by consumption and proliferation the end result is Doomsday. If hydrocarbons came first and created life then sustainability is assured. Geology says vegetation did not evolve until 4.5 million years ago, which is only within the last 0.1% of earth's geological history. As for animals, the prokaryotes are the simplest form of cell-life, and appeared about a billion years after the earth was formed.

So how can oil be a fossil fuel? We should be discussing if we are running out of hydrocarbons in soil, and soil on the planet, for which of course there is no evidence.

Arable land exists all over the globe with vegetation even in deserts and at the poles. There are plants that survive the harsh climate of Antarctica despite extreme temperatures, fierce winds and lack of rain. Algae, mosses, liverworts, lichens and microscopic fungi survive and grow there. Some algae live in snow, other plants grow on the 2% of coastal rocky land that is ice free. There are 2 species of flowering plants in Antarctica. Plant species like plankton, algae and mosses, live in and around Antarctica's fresh and saltwater lakes.

Soil is not just on land. The oceans are crammed with vegetation, which is why 99.7% of earth's total biomass is underwater. Over 1 million species of plants and animals are known to be in the oceans, and scientists estimate as many as 9 million more species there that we haven't yet found. If it wasn't for marine algae we would not be able to breathe. Through photosynthesis, marine plants provide much of the world’s oxygen supply and take in huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

Desert plants can be grouped into three categories. Escapers, such as annuals, have seeds that lie dormant for several years. When water finally arrives they germinate, grow, flower and set seed rapidly. Evaders, such as ocotillo, drop their leaves or go into state of dormancy when water is deficient, and resisters, such as cacti and shrubs have small leaves or succulent tissues to store water.

Due to its abundance oil and gas exploration discoveries are weekly, if not daily, with volumes investors would only have dreamt of a decade ago. Each new discovery makes it impossible to keep track of the playing field, and even more difficult to rank the potential. We do not know how much oil there was before we started extracting it, and we do not know how much has already been extracted.

In 2012 the focus was East and West Africa, with game-changing finds in Kenya, Mozambique, Angola, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Anadarko saw a 10% increase in overall oil production. 2013 saw a discovery revival in the Gulf of Mexico. In mid-June, Norway's Statoil announced a new discovery of high-quality oil off the coast of Newfoundland. In late April, France's announced a major discovery off the Ivory Coast. In May came Brazil's largest ever discovery in its Libra field.

Anadarko has great onshore assets in the US Gulf of Mexico off the coasts of Algeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Brazil, China, Indonesia and New Zealand. They plan to spend $5.5 billion this year developing onshore US assets alone. Nowhere is there any panic that oil is depleting.

What may be running out is patience with green lobbyists ranting that oil is depleting, which licenses oil cartels to raise prices due to imagined scarcity. This creates more poverty and death for thousands who can no longer afford fuel costs of driving to employment and so lose their incomes, and the increased numbers of elderly dying of cold each winter because they can no longer afford heating bills.

There will always be oil where there is soil and even where there is not. Norway have discovered crude in previously unproductive rock in the Arctic and are planning an extensive drilling programme. The discovery is estimated to yield 145 million barrels, opening as many as 10 possible drilling targets in the area.

The Russians and Chinese have always drilled oil as if it is renewable, calling oil “a-biotic”. They have long campaigned that the fossil fuel argument is a fantasy of western capitalism. Crude oil is renewable and is being renewed naturally right now. Oil fields are commonly found around volcanism, because the explosive pressures of eruptions can and do fuse hydrocarbons together. Volcanism is part of the ceaseless ongoing interactivity between the earth's crust and the hot magna beneath.

Ken Ring of is author of the Weather Almanacs for 2013 and 2014 (Random House (NZ) Ltd)

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