Q&A: Did Petroleum Deposits Result from Inorganic Sources?

Ben in Missoula, MT

While studying geoscience, I came across the theory of petroleum abiogenesis. From my understanding petroleum abiogenesis hypothesizes that petroleum deposits, although seen with biological organisms and lithified microorganisms, have an origin primarily from non-organic sources deep within the earth. This clearly has significance to the public concern of running out of fossil fuel resources. Is there any connection between petroleum abiogenesis and a creationist worldview? What is RTB’s take on this?


oil-pumpingThere certainly is a connection between petroleum, coal, and natural gas abiogenesis and young-earth creationism. Many young-earth creationists recognize that less than 10,000 years of maximal biological activity cannot possibly account for all the fossil fuel resources. Thus, they argue that most of the earth’s petroleum, coal, and natural gas resources come from non-organic sources—but this is a failed hypothesis.

Carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotope ratios establish that well over 90 percent of known petroleum, coal, and natural gas resources are indeed the result of biological activity. Thus, it must have taken millions of years for these resources to accumulate.

Yes, researchers have demonstrated that non-biological processes are capable of producing petroleum and natural gas. It is challenging, however, for such processes to generate large quantities of petroleum and natural gas that could accumulate in deposits within Earth’s crust. Consequently, most scientists are very skeptical that such deposits will be discovered in quantities sufficient to alleviate public concern about running out of fossil fuel resources.

Let me add that scientists have also proven a nonbiological pathway for making limestone. But, as with petroleum, coal, and natural gas, isotope ratios show that virtually all of Earth’s limestone (over 75 quadrillion tons) is of biological origin. (For a more in-depth answer to your questions replete with citations to the scientific literature please see my book Navigating Genesis, pp. 166–69.)

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