Interesting to know

Black gold mystery

Amidst a daily avalanche of news coming from the oil market, one cannot help wondering: what essentially is the so-called 'black gold'? There is also another question, stemming from the previous one: how much longer will the world's oil supply last? When will we run out of it? There are no simple answers to these questions as scientists have produced a multitude of theories and explanations to suit any taste over the years of research and speculation.

According to Wikipedia, petroleum (crude oil) is a naturally occurring, yellow-to-black liquid found in geological formations beneath the Earth's surface, which is commonly refined into various types of fuels. It consists of various hydrocarbons (alkanes, cycloalkanes and arenes – aromatic hydrocarbons) as well as other organic compounds (i.e., carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur and nitrogen compounds). There exist numerous hypotheses regarding the origin of oil, spanning from biogenic (arguing that oil is in fact the decay product of animal and plant matter) to abiogenic theories (attempting to prove that oil originated as carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas rising through the deep layers of the Earth's crust), and even cosmic origin theories (in essence, self-explanatory). Some of us may have heard of a recent discovery made by a group of American scientists who found a microscopic alga capable of producing large amounts of hydrocarbons. This means that algae could become a renewable source of biofuel in the future. However, at present the costs of producing 'green petroleum' are too high. Returning to the question of petroleum origin, another hypothesis, which was extremely popular for decades, claims that the Earth's oil reserves were formed during the Mesozoic Era, the time of dinosaurs. Therefore, crude oil presumably owes its formation to the relics of dinosaurs as well as other purely organic ancient matter preserved in the Earth's crust, as the theory suggests.

As for possible oil depletion in the future, the question so far remains open. Opinions differ in the scientific world as to how long petroleum reserves would last. There are two major viewpoints. Some researchers strongly believe that the world's supplies of 'black gold' could hold out no longer than half a century while others argue that crude oil is basically a limitless natural resource. Not so long ago, a series of experiments was conducted in the Institute for High Pressure Physics in Troitsk, Moscow Region (Russia). These scientific procedures demonstrated that our planet is capable of continuously generating oil and gas all by itself. Russian scientists reckon that the concentration of carbon in the Earth's upper mantle is sufficient, so it can make its way to the surface. Of course, it is hard to say who is right in this matter. As a Latin philosopher would say, Tantum tempus narrabo (Only time will tell).

At present all we can do is to use oil and oil products in a sensible and meaningful manner, making energy consumption more efficient, with the interests of future generations in mind. In this light, the disputable and often-quoted declaration made by notorious French Madame de Pompadour – Après nous, le deluge (After us, the deluge) – seems to be the wrong motto. The importance of oil in today's world is recognized in the words of Robert Bryce: “The world runs on oil, period. No other substance can compete when it comes to energy density, flexibility, ease of handling, ease of transportation. If oil didn't exist we would have to invent it.”

Meanwhile, those of us who are willing and able to make use of petroleum in a slightly different way, can benefit from oil quotes and price fluctuations by trading, investing, and keeping abreast of latest developments in the global oil market.


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