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A Rebuttal of Thomas Gold's Claims for Abiotic Oil (summary only)

edited by Dale Allen Pfeiffer

[The following paper is a critique of the writings of Thomas Gold, written by Jean Laherrere. It is a scientific dialogue and contains many technical terms and references which may be nearly unfathomable to the layperson. However, it is a very important discussion because it lays bare many of the errors in Gold's arguments. Unfortunately, Thomas Gold is no longer with us to respond to these criticisms. However, this critique has been floating around in one form or another for a few years now, and it is not unreasonable to assume that Thomas Gold was aware of it.

Jean Laherrere has told me that he sent a copy of this critique (along with other materials critical of abiotic theory) to V.A. Krayushkin, the main Russian proponent of abiotic oil, in 2001, shortly before a conference where both men were to present papers. Dr. Krayushkin canceled his appearance and has since gone out of his way to avoid addressing Jean Laherrere's criticism. Jean's comments on the Dneiper-Donets Basin will be presented in the second part of this series. If a scientist cannot or will not defend his theory against fair scientific scrutiny, then his argument is immediately caste into doubt.

For the layperson, before attempting to read this paper it is first necessary to recognize that hydrocarbons are a large and complex family of compounds. At one end of this family, we have single carbon compounds such as Methane (one atom of carbon surrounded by 4 atoms of hydrogen, chemical formula: CH4) and Carbon Dioxide (one carbon atom bonded to two oxygen atoms, chemical formula: CO2). At the other end of this family we have complex hydrocarbons where numerous carbon atoms form linked chains of up to 24 carbon atoms with attached hydrogen and hydroxyl (Oxygen and Hydrogen: OH) combinations, and 6 carbon rings (benzene rings). An example of a complex hydrocarbon with a branched chain is 2,2,4-Trimethylene (isooctane), a component of gasoline with an octane rating of 100. An example of a compound based on a carbon ring is Toluene, another component of gasoline with an octane rating of 120. Petroleum is a mixture of thousands of different complex hydrocarbons, which are classified into useful groups based on their boiling points. Here is a breakdown of various major components of petroleum with their corresponding number of carbon atoms.

No scientist has ever argued that simple hydrocarbons such as methane cannot originate inorganically. Methane and carbon dioxide are the major components in the atmosphere of the gas giants of our outer solar system (Saturn, Jupiter, et cetera). And it is believed that the early atmosphere of the Earth consisted mostly of these gases, until they leaked into space. Nor is there much question that simple hydrocarbons could possibly be generated abiotically within the Earth. However, the quantity of methane which might be generated abiotically is likely to be insignificant.

When we move on to more complex hydrocarbons, this becomes another matter. Here we must look at how stable these molecules are at varying combinations of temperature and pressure similar to what is found at depth in the Earth. While some lab experiments have produced somewhat complex hydrocarbons at pressures and temperatures consistent with the upper mantle, they have not explained how these compounds would remain stable as they slowly rose to the crust though zones where pressure was not sufficient to hold them together but where temperatures were still high enough to break them down into methane.

Also, when testing a scientific hypothesis, it is necessary to ascertain whether a phenomenon can be achieved by any mechanism other than that which is central to the hypothesis. If there are other possible mechanisms, then they must be ruled out before any particular test can be claimed to support a certain hypothesis. As Jean Laherrere points out in his critique, Thomas Gold repeatedly failed to take other possibilities into account. This results in sloppy science, and it cannot hold up.

The papers referred to in this article can be found at the following web site: http://people.cornell.edu/pages/tg21/vita.html. Quotations from Gold's papers are italicized, followed by Jean Laherrere's critique.
-D.A.P.]

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