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Meta Research Bulletin On-Line

2007 Sept. 15 issue

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Meta Research Bulletin 2007

Black Gold: Thomas Gold’s Deep Hot Biosphere and the Deep-Earth theories of the Origin of Petroleum

An analysis by Neil DeRosa <>



Petroleum, methane, and other hydrocarbons found on earth, are believed to be “fossil fuels,” the remnant of decayed organic matter deposited in the sedimentary layers of the earth’s crust for hundreds of millions of years. But for more than a half century, Russian scientists have been exploring an alternate hypothesis; that hydrocarbons existed prior to the formation of the earth, or were produced in the extreme pressure of the earth’s upper mantle shortly thereafter. For many years, Thomas Gold, a well known scientist with many original contributions to his credit, has been proposing his own synthesis of the Russian “abiogenic” theory. Through his independent formulations, research, and experiments, he has brought attention to it in Western academic and scientific forums, and thereby posed a significant challenge to the firmly entrenched but poorly substantiated fossil fuel theory. Gold therefore qualifies as the principal scientist for the theory in question, not the mere advocate of a theory fully formulated by others, and certainly not a theory that has been accepted by the Western scientific establishment. A resolution to this paradigm conflict in his favor would of course have momentous consequences, both scientific and macroeconomic, but in keeping with the theme of the present work, it is the scientific issue that concerns us most, and which will be the subject of this discussion.


Early Accomplishments of the Scientist

Astronomer, Thomas Gold, is best known for his “steady state” theory of the universe, which he developed with H. Bondi and F. Hoyle in 1955, in opposition to the commonly accepted Big Bang (BB) theory. Although it did not succeed in unseating the BB theory, largely because of the indisputable astronomical red shift data provided by the famous Edwin Hubble, the steady state theory was (and in more up-to-date versions, still is) favored by many astronomers and physicists for a variety of reasons, but which are beyond the scope of the present discussion.


During WWII and its aftermath, Gold made important contributions to Doppler radar science and technology; and applying this theory, he made inroads into our understanding of human hearing, formulating a new theory of the structure and function of the inner-ear that was far ahead of its time, and also proposing medical uses of sonic radar, or sonography, which were later developed by others. Working as an astronomer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, he conducted original research on the sun and magnetic fields, coining the word, “magnetosphere” to describe the magnetic field of a star or planet. This work led to another important contribution; namely that the earth’s (or a planet’s) rotational axis can be unstable over time, and can move with changes in the distribution of matter or angular momentum of the rotating planet, (caused by glaciers, the upwelling of mountains, or meteor impacts).


Throughout his career, Gold gained a reputation as an iconoclast for questioning the basic assumptions underlying the scientific dogmas of many fields in science. He endorsed an “interdisciplinary model” of science, in opposition to the “specialist model” supported by most scientists and philosophers of science today. In this respect his philosophical position resembles that of Thomas Kuhn who postulated that specialists practicing “normal science” are inherently incapable of challenging existing paradigms. Such challenges must come from either young scientists who are willing to risk all, retired scientists with less to lose, or what is more likely, from established scientists from other specialties or from another field altogether. The latter was certainly the case with Gold’s challenge to the huge and entrenched petroleum industry and its scientific hierarchy, a challenge that was not successful during his lifetime. [1, 2]


The Deep-Earth Gas Theory vs. the Fossil Fuel Theory

Petroleum, coal, and methane are the most commonly known of the hydrocarbons. Carbon and hydrogen combine in molecules in a variety of shapes and sizes to form the hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are believed to be the decomposed remnants of life; dinosaurs, and of all the plants and animals that lived on the earth millions of years ago. High-carbon hydrocarbons form coal in sedimentary layers, believed to be the decomposed remnants of ancient swamps. Carbon in its purest form becomes graphite, and under extreme pressures, diamonds. In sedimentary strata deep and shallow, organic material and living organisms are found in petroleum and other hydrocarbons. Methane, the primary ingredient in “natural gas,” and the simplest and most abundant of the hydrocarbons found on earth, is also thought to be solely the product of biological activity. Methane is known to be the by-product of the metabolism of certain animals and micro-organisms.


But astronomers have found methane to be abundant in the atmospheres of the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, where no life is known to exist. Moreover, spectral analysis reveals that methane is a commonly occurring substance in the universe, found in many planets and asteroids. Instead of serving as a reality check for the biogenic or “fossil fuel” theory for hydrocarbons on earth, which was formulated in the nineteenth century when much less was known about the formation and composition of other planets; this discovery prompted speculations that life must exist on Jupiter. Gold draws a different conclusion:


It would be surprising indeed if the earth had obtained its hydrocarbons only from a (biological source). While the planetary bodies bereft of surface life would have to receive their hydrocarbon gifts by purely abiogenic causes. (46, parenthesis added, all page references from, The Deep Hot Biosphere)


  One of Gold’s major premises, reflected in the title of his book, The Deep Hot Biosphere, [3], is that bacteria-like micro-organisms can live in the extreme pressures of the deep earth, and by extension, possibly also in the interiors of other planets as well, and that these bacteria can “eat” or metabolize non-organic hydrocarbons as an energy source, provided that oxygen is readily available. Moreover, he proposes that these organisms may have first evolved deep inside the earth, and may have been the progenitors of all life on the surface of the earth. Thus he offers two mutually interdependent paradigm challenging theories at once, which are synthesized and extended by him from preliminary work done by others. They are interrelated because organic residue, and even life, is known to be associated with hydrocarbons on earth.


But the crucial question for us is which came first: If hydrocarbons are the remnants of decomposed surface plant and animal life, then they should be found only in or near the sedimentary surface rock layers of the earth, and only in very limited quantities. But if Hydrocarbons are primordial and originally non-organic, that is, if they are naturally occurring molecular substances found in the universe, then the way we should search for them, where we should expect to find them, and in what amounts, will be very different. In the abiogenic theory there should be vast supplies of petroleum and almost limitless supplies of methane found in the deep reaches of the earth, far below the crustal sedimentary layers. And, of course, if the biogenic theory is correct, we should be running out of our preciously scarce “fossil fuels” very soon. In a candid world of open-minded science, this should be a hot topic, and a key question in the forefront of scientific debate, but we rarely here of it.


Five Assumptions of the Abiogenic Theory

Gold begins with the assumption that the biogenic theory would not have been proposed in the 1870s had the presently accepted “accretion model” for the formation of the planets been understood at the time, since it was then thought that any primordial hydrocarbons would have been oxidized in the extreme heat “fire-ball” of the newly formed earth; meaning under the “fission model,” which was the accepted paradigm at the time. (For a discussion of a modern version of that model see [4].) In the accretion model, the earth was formed out of cooler and smaller asteroids, and gases, which, as is now known, often contained hydrocarbons. But whether the fission or accretion model is correct, it is not difficult to postulate the formation of hydrocarbons, especially in their simplest form, methane (H4C), under the right temperature and pressure conditions in the upper mantel of the earth. These hydrocarbons would then have gradually migrated upward, driven stepwise through the strata as a result of the pressure differential between the adjoining layers of rock.


Gold’s second assumption is that the nascent earth was subject to only a partial melt, since a complete meltdown would have caused extreme temperatures that could oxidize all hydrocarbons. His first two assumptions for his deep-earth gas theory are therefore related to the accretion model of the formation of the earth, and are here deemed unnecessary, since hydrocarbons could have also formed by combination of the constituent elements under the correct pressure and temperature conditions in the upper mantel of a cooling earth, in either model. (43-48) Gold concedes this possibility in several instances, and moreover, that hydrocarbons may even now be forming (48, 50, 89, 90-91, 130).


The third assumption is that hydrocarbons are stable at great depth. It used to be thought that hydrocarbons would dissociate, or break down to their elemental components at between 300C and 600C. This can be demonstrated by a simple [and nave] stovetop experiment. Moreover it is easily demonstrated that methane gas quickly oxidizes to CO2 and H2O once it comes into contact with the abundant free oxygen of the earth’s atmosphere. We placed the word “nave” in brackets because in the deep earth, pressure increases with depth. It is a well known fact that the boiling point of water and other liquids increases in a direct proportion with an increase in pressure, and this applies to hydrocarbons as well.


Russian Geoscientist E. B. Chekaliuk’s thermodynamic calculations indicate that methane could remain stable down to a depth of 300 kilometers, except in volcanic regions where the methane would oxidize into CO2 and water; and Gold thinks the lower limit for stability for methane is around 600 km. Chekaliuk determined that methane, for example, would be stable at 300 km, provided the temperature (the geotherm) of the earth at that depth did not exceed 2,000C (51). Other calculations made in Russia suggest that the heavier petroleum hydrocarbon molecules can remain stable under the pressure and temperature conditions found at depths of between 30 and 300 km, and moreover that hydrocarbons could be generated by combination of hydrogen and carbon atoms at these depths (50).


The fourth assumption supporting the abiogenic or deep-earth gas theory is that the igneous rock at depths below the sedimentary layers is porous. An erroneous but widely held view found in geology texts is that the weight of the overburden rock would crush even the strongest rocks to a degree that no pores would remain. But Gold believes that this is like a schoolboy who wonders why he is not crushed by the weight of the atmosphere of 14.7 psi on his body. The reason is that the pressure is equalized throughout every pore and cell in our bodies, so that the same pressure obtains on the inside, in the body fluids and membranes as well as the outside. When deep sea divers experience “the bends,” upon returning too quickly to the surface, it is because their body pressure has not had sufficient time to equalize, and N2 bubbles come out of the bloodstream, causing pain and are life threatening. Gold believes the same phenomenon exists in porous rock at depth, allowing ample pore spaces for large amounts of hydrocarbons to flow worldwide, under pressures equal to that of the surrounding rocks (53-54). At the same time, petroleum geologists were in part correct in that, starting from the surface, pressure from overburden rock causes some crushing of rock and diminishing of pores to a low permeability state at certain depths, causing layering, but this in turn allows higher pressures of fluids to build up beneath, and also higher porosity of the deeper rock (54).


The fifth assumption is that these high temperature and high pressure hydrocarbons are continually upwelling from the depths of the earth. There are several lines of evidence which support this theory, which will be discussed as we proceed.


Evidence for the Deep Gas Theory

The deep-gas theory presumes that there are vast amounts of hydrocarbons in the earth at depths far in excess of the ability of man to drill for, or even sample them, but this is no obstacle to exploiting them, since these sources continually rise to the surface in metered amounts. Evidence for the abiogenic theory is of seven main types:


1.    Reservoirs of hydrocarbons are generally found in geographical patterns in long lines or arcs sometimes extending for thousands of miles. These patterns were discovered by D. Mendeleyev in the 1870s, and confirmed many times since then (57).

2.    Petroleum deposits follow Koudryavtsev’s rule: hydrocarbon-rich layers tend to be consistently rich all the way down to the crystalline basement that underlies the sediment. Hydrocarbons in the basement rock, even when drilling has extended past the sedimentary layers and into the basement rock, can be better explained by vertical reach of hydrocarbons from below (57-58).

3.    Methane is found in many areas where biogenic (fossil fuel) explanations are improbable. These locations include ocean rifts, depths far below sediment layers, areas such as the floors of large (ancient) craters with little or no sedimentary rock, and “methane hydrates,” which are frozen bubbles of large quantities of methane found on ocean floors and under-glacier lakes (58).

4.    Hydrocarbon deposits over a large geographical area often show a common chemical signature inconsistent with the geological formations in which they are found but consistent with a common, much deeper source (59).

5.    Hydrocarbon reserves seem to be refilling as they are exploited. Pressure readings of working oil fields tend to drop as the reserve supply is depleted. But physical (and hence economic) predictions and projections (estimates based on a non-refilling biogenic principle) are almost never realized because the reserves refill unexpectedly, but in metered amounts over time. This is due to the caprock (basement rock) allowing passage of the hydrocarbons from below as the pressure differential increases (60). This effect is tantamount to tapping into deeper reserves without drilling. The phenomenon of oil wells refilling themselves is widely reported, especially in the Middle East and the U.S Gulf coast [5] (61).

6.    The sedimentary layers of the earth contain around one hundred times more carbon than should be available from the grinding up of the basement rock from which the sedimentary layers are composed. This carbon enrichment must come from somewhere. Gold believes that the only logical explanation for the earth’s present atmosphere is that it is the result of outgassing of carbon-containing volatiles from the earth’s interior. The sedimentary record shows a continuous accumulation of carbonate deposits, as a result of oxidized carbon. “What is the origin of the supply that maintains atmospheric CO2 at levels that result in the deposition of carbonates through all geological epochs and that maintains a supply rate sufficiently consistent to keep plants alive?” (63) The answer must be the upwelling of hydrocarbons from deep in the earth.

Another important related but more technical line of evidence is found in the ratio of the two stable carbon isotopes; C-12 and C-13. The average ratio of these isotopes on earth is around one atom of C-13 to every one hundred atoms of C-12. During photosynthesis, a process call fractionation occurs, which results in a small deficiency in the heavier (C-13) isotope. This is caused by the slight disadvantage the heavier isotope has in passing trough cell membranes. This C-13 deficiency is thus a signature of plant life. Gold points out that another process can also cause fractionation but at greater values than those attributed to plants. Upwelling methane is subject to depletion of the heavier carbon isotope whenever it passes through a wet spot or a particularly tight network of porous rock. Precise measurements of these processes can reveal that abiogenic theory provides a better explanation and is a better predictor of the measured C-13 deficiencies (66-69).

7.    Another line of evidence is the strong association of hydrocarbons with helium. “This association is so strong that in the commercial search for hydrocarbons, helium sniffing along the surface has been found useful” (72). This line of evidence is according to Gold probably the most significant factor that the biogenic theory fails to account for.


In the earth, helium is produced primarily through the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium. As was noted in the case of carbon (6 above), helium is found in sediments in amounts far in excess of what could have been produced by the radioactive components found there. This means that the helium also must have come from below the layers of sedimentary rock. Moreover, helium is found in well defined mixing ratios along with methane and nitrogen. “Only a mix that had entered the sediment and its individual gas field from below could have achieved that effect” (73).


The deeper the source of the upwelling hydrocarbons, the greater the distance of porous rock it must pass through in its upward journey, the more opportunity there is to pass through radioactive rock and pick up radioactively derived helium atoms. Thus the concentration of helium in hydrocarbons is a good indicator of the depth from which it originated. But helium is too diffuse to build up sufficient pressure to force its way through the pore spaces in the rocks. Helium transport must therefore be driven by another more abundant gas, such as methane or nitrogen. These are precisely the indicators for helium found at or near the surface, and the reason why helium and methane show a close relationship even when found at shallow depths in farmers’ wells (75). To falsify this hypothesis helium would have to be found in similar amounts to that which is found in gas fields but in the absence of methane or nitrogen. But this is never the case (77). Gold believes that the deep-gas theory is made more compelling by the helium association, and this writer agrees with his reasoning.


An original extension of Gold’s hypothesis having to do with the formation of diamonds and the transport of heavy metals to the near surface deposits from which they are mined commercially, can only be mentioned briefly here. It is known that diamonds form out of pure or near-pure carbon in the extreme pressures and temperatures of the earth’s upper mantel approximately 150 kilometers deep. The way diamonds get to the surface or to the outer crust through “funnel fissures,” is both interesting and consistent with the deep-gas theory of hydrocarbons. Diamonds may actually be carried to the surface along with these occasional gas eruptions in the earth’s crust, and in effect become annealed, or “quick frozen.” This allows their crystalline structure, forged at great pressure, to remain intact in the lower surface pressure (128). A related process may carry leeched heavy metals from their original locations deep in the earth. The leeching agent may again be hydrocarbons, which carry the metals with them trough the porous rock to surface deposits where they can be mined. In conventional geology theory, the leeching agent is thought to be water, which Gold believes to be inadequate to the task because water can not exist at depths in excess of 10 km, whereas, as was mentioned above, hydrocarbons can remain stable at least down to a 300 km depth (125-139).


The Petroleum Paradox

On the basis of the kinds of evidence seen thus far, it would seem that the deep-gas theory is correct and the fossil fuel theory is not only wrong, but woefully inadequate. However, it’s not that simple. There is an apparent paradox to contend with first. How do we explain the fact that these postulated non-biogenic gases, petroleum, and coal are teeming with life and the remains of living matter? Gold’s most important contribution to the deep-gas theory is perhaps in his proposed solution to this problem. As mentioned in the introductory comments above, the theory of a “deep, hot, biosphere” is the solution. But what is wanted is good evidence. Gold begins:


The unrecognized assumption on both sides of the debate was the unquestioned belief that life can exist only at the surface of the earth. None of us had considered that a large amount of microbiology could exist within the earth’s crust, down to the deepest levels to which we can drill. (81; italics in the original)


A persistent criticism of samples of microbial life brought up from deep wells was that they were not native inhabitants of the deep but opportunists introduced from the surface by contamination from the drilling equipment. But several scientific papers answered this objection by offering strong evidence in support of indigenous deep, hot biospheric life. Samples from a deep well in France in 1995 established the existence of indigenous thermophiles living at a depth of 1.6 kilometers. In Alaska the following year indigenous microbes were found at 4 km and at a temperature of 110C. Soon thereafter microbial fossils were found imbedded 200 meters in granite; of which Gold contends; “fossils cannot be introduced by drilling into solid granite.” (30) He proposes that a huge microbial biosphere exists at least down to 8 km. This is the depth at which petroleum in the deepest boreholes has been found (81)


A 1986 paper by G. Ourisson; et al, (83), showed that the quantity of biological life in petroleum was astonishingly large. “One molecular signature of life in oils came from a group of molecules that the Ourisson team had found and named hopanoids…Hopanoids are prominent in all of the numerous samples of petroleum that have been tested for them…And there is no dispute that these molecules are derived from membranes of once living cells” (84). Why does Gold think that this is evidence in favor of the abiogenic theory rather than the fossil fuel theory? Because, (and this was acknowledged by the Ourisson team), the trees and ferns, which supply the bulk of the living matter from which oil is supposedly formed in the biogenic theory, contain hopanoids at the lower end of the carbon-number chain. Whereas the bulk of the hopanoids found by the Ourisson team were at the high end of the carbon-number chain—the kind found in microorganisms. In the same study, another common molecule was found, (a terpenoid), known to be present in methane-eating bacteria (84).


In a 1963 paper by R. Robinson, (84), the author pointed out that it is unlikely that biological debris could decompose into hydrogen-saturated hydrocarbons. Robinson concluded decades before Gold proposed his theory that petroleum presents a picture of primordial hydrocarbons in which the products of biology have been added (84). And so it seems that questions of priority must take a back seat to the question of whether or not the theory is correct. It must be added that to this day, no one has ever synthesized petroleum from decomposed trees, algae, or ferns (85).


Gold explains that biological debris would be unlikely to lose their oxygen atoms and to acquire hydrogen atoms in their place. Instead, slow decomposition should produce further oxygen gain and hydrogen loss. “And yet a hydrogen ‘gain’ is precisely what we see in crude oils and their hydrocarbon volatiles. How, then, could biological molecules somehow acquire hydrogen atoms while, presumably, degrading into petroleum?” (85).


If the deep, hot biosphere is the solution to the petroleum paradox how extensive, how widespread is this biomass? With a presumed temperature limit for this subterranean microbial life of 110C to 150C, (well below the boiling point of water at the corresponding depths and pressures), the depth limit for the biosphere would be between 5 and 10 kilometers (85). Based on certain known and estimated parameters of available pore space world wide, and utilizing Ourisson’s data, Gold calculates that the worldwide biomass would be somewhat greater than the existing flora and fauna on the surface of the earth (86).


The abiogenic theory then, combined with the deep, hot biosphere theory is as Gold succinctly phrases it; “not biology that has been reworked by geology but geology that has been reworked by biology” (86). One might expect coal to be the exception; surely coal is the result of degraded plant life and ancient swamps. No, says Gold, but he does make a partial exception for peat and lignite, which are indeed reworked plant life with some help from primordial hydrocarbons (87). But black coals come from the same upwelling of hydrocarbons as petroleum and methane, originating far below the sedimentary layers. The process is essentially a sequential loss of hydrogen atoms as hydrocarbons upwell through porous rock, and this is the primary reason why so many petroleum fields are configured in a “layer-cake” manner. Methane is at the lowest depth, layered on this is light crude, next come the heavier oils, and then often on top of all is black coal. This correlation of coal with petroleum fields can be seen in many parts of the world (98). The blacker the coal the greater the hydrogen loss and the greater the carbon to hydrogen ratio. How do the hydrocarbons lose their hydrogen atoms? Though many factors are involved, and we can go no further into the technical details here, there is a gradual process of oxidation as the hydrocarbons upwell, and carbon deposits left behind tend to be a catalyst for more carbon deposits, not unlike what happens in an internal combustion engine.


The Worst of All Possible Prospects

The stature of the scientist and his potential capacity to unseat the formidable and firmly entrenched biogenic theory was demonstrated in the episode of the Siljan experiment. Since the evidence presented thus far, quantified, and of course in much greater detail in the original work by Gold, would not be sufficient to overturn the reigning paradigm, it would be necessary to provide indisputable proof. Hydrocarbons must be found in a place that is conceded to be the worst of all possible prospects for finding hydrocarbons, a location where such a discovery would not be explainable by the fossil fuel theory. Although even here there are Russian precedents; e.g., an eleven kilometer deep borehole in the Kola Peninsula in northern Russia found methane in the crystalline rock, where no downward seepage from the surface would seem a credible explanation (107).


The 44 km diameter Siljan Crater in central Sweden known as the Siljan Ring, so named for its surrounding ring of lakes, was an ideal place to test Gold’s theory. In addition to being a large geographical area almost devoid of sedimentary rock, the ancient impact crater is also a region of porous rubble down to a great depth, in which fluids from below could ascend and collect (108).


After some lobbying, and with the help of influential friends, the Swedish parliament approved the project of drilling two boreholes in the Siljan Ring. Aside from pure scientific interest, Sweden’s motivation was understandably economic. Being a country that imports almost all of its hydrocarbon energy needs, they wanted to investigate the possibilities for future energy independence. Drilling began in 1986 and ended in 1990 (111). The results were positive in terms of science, but the lack of an easy commercial success gave critics ample ammunition to claim failure, and hence the indisputable proof Gold sought eluded him. A brief recap of the results follows:


       The boreholes reached a depth of 6.7 kilometers. Samples showed the presence of methane, pentane, and highly saturated oils, all present deep in the granitic rock (111). Water solutions were used as drilling lubricants to eliminate the possibility of introducing hydrocarbons from above. Volumes of hydrocarbons in the samples increased with depth.


       Eventually a fine grained substance caused the oil to become so pasty that it became a great obstacle for prospects of commercial success without massive increased expenditures, which investors declined to underwrite. But ironically, the substance turned out to be magnetite, a form of iron often mined commercially, and produced by living microorganisms in the oil (116). Thus the magnetite was an indicator of petroleum reserves below. In addition, high concentrations of iridium were found in the magnetite, a heavy metal also of commercial value, and also likely to have been transported by the hydrocarbons from the depths (118).


       Accompanying the fine grained substance in the pasty sludge was a strong stench. Laboratory tests revealed this odor to be the result of the metabolic activity of a known methane oxidizing bacteria. These bacteria essentially draw oxygen from ferric iron and other mineral oxides, and use the hydrocarbons for food. The metabolic result is magnetite, which is an oxygen reduced form of iron with magnetic properties (magnetite contains 16 atoms of oxygen for every 18 atoms of oxygen in ferric iron). At least two other strains of thermophilic bacteria, previously unknown, were also discovered at the sampling depth (119).


       A final pumping operation in the test boreholes produced around 12 tons of crude oil, considered by the Danish Geological Survey to be “ordinary crude oil.” Fifteen tons of fine grained magnetite was also pumped out (121). These were results that could not be dismissed as “trace amounts.” Nevertheless that is what was claimed by critics. [6] No major western scientific journal reported Gold’s analysis of the results, once again validating Kuhn’s Law. Gold surmises:


Eighty-four barrels of oil are meaningful, especially when they are found in a location where, in the conventional view, not a single drop of oil could have a rational explanation. The theory of the abiogenic origin of petroleum had thus been confirmed. (Dr. P. N. Kropotkin, a distinguished Russian petroleum geologist), wrote, in an issue of The History of Science, “The discovery of oil, deep in the Baltic Shield, may be considered a decisive factor in the hundred-year-old debate about the biogenic or abiogenic origin of oil. This discovery was made…on the initiative of T. Gold.” (121-22, parenthesis added)



A principle discussed more than once in [4], is that when a paradigm challenge increases in its credibility or gains momentum, it becomes an increasing threat to the entrenched scientists who are invested in the mainstream theory. When the challenging theory is perceived as making progress in its attempt to overthrow the old paradigm, the counter attack from mainstream scientists and their media (or academic) supporters heats up. This was certainly the case with Gold’s challenge to the fossil fuel theory, especially in light of his well publicized near-success at Siljan. A few examples of the critics’ claims follow:


Interestingly, Gold was accused of plagiarism on more than one occasion. This is curious because if the abiogenic theory is false, why worry about stolen ideas, since the theory ostensibly has no merit anyway. In one instance, C.W Hunt accuses Gold of stealing his idea that petroleum is methane acted on by microbes. [7] Which is not, incidentally what Gold claims in The Deep Hot Biosphere, his definitive statement on the subject; though he may have made that claim elsewhere. Another and more serious accusation of plagiarism was made by J. Briggs who solicited the assistance of Russian scientist V.A. Krayushkin in accusing Gold of stealing the abiogenic theory from a long list of Russian scientists who pioneered this idea during the Soviet era. [8] But, as noted above, Gold gives due credit to several Russian scientists for their contributions. If he did not include them all, that certainly doesn’t constitute an infraction, merely a human limitation.


The Siljan Ring experiment brought out many critics. One of the most determined was R. Donofrio, who claimed in an extensive report to the Swedish Vattenfall, (public utility), and in subsequent letters, that Siljan was a complete failure, and that Gold had proved nothing. [6] Another mainstream geologist L. Pinsker, writing for Geotimes, a geology journal, makes the usual blanket criticisms of a reigning paradigm apologist, citing for instance the original research (of 1860) as unassailable proof of the fossil fuel theory. That critic also makes an interesting admission characteristic of paradigm debates; by stating that it is “known” that some hydrocarbons are formed geologically, but most of course are not. This is a tried and true tactic of mainstreamers who position themselves for the day that the new paradigm succeeds, and they can say—after the fact—“we knew it all along.” [9]



One does not have to accept Gold’s speculations on the origin of life, nor any particular model for the formation of the planets in order to lean favorably toward the abiogenic theory of hydrocarbon formation; especially in light of Gold’s competent reformulation of the Russian theory. Nor is it difficult to accept the theory of microbial life living at depth in the earth at greater pressures and temperatures than have been hitherto thought possible. But whatever the origin of life, it seems secondary to the much more immediate question. Obviously the one that affects human society in a very profound way is the source, quantity and origin of hydrocarbons. Indeed the answer will impact the future of our civilization.


What of the deep hot biosphere? Our tentative conclusion is that this theory is correct, that it resolves the “petroleum paradox,” and that it exemplifies the unique capacity of life to adapt to a great variety of conditions, both on the earth, deep within it, and also elsewhere in the universe.


Concluding chapters of The Deep Hot Biosphere deal with the origin of life, the cause of earthquakes, and other topics and suggestions for future research. Although some of these topics may seem tangential to the central theme, the significance may be in that here are testable (falsifiable) hypotheses which, if confirmed, would add significant weight to the abiogenic theory of petroleum origin. For instance, if complex organic molecules, proteins, or even RNA could be synthesized by simulating the extreme pressures, temperatures, and chemical conditions of the deep earth, (assuming primordial hydrocarbons), such a result would certainly support the deep hot biosphere model, in addition to being a momentous feat in itself. Similarly, if controlled tests confirmed that hydrocarbons under extreme pressures, upwelling from the upper mantel of the earth, are the cause of—or a contributing factor in—earthquakes, this would also support the abiogenic theory. If either of these ancillary theories proved to be correct in the future, it might be the next logical step to accept the deep gas theory as formulated by Thomas Gold. Like a good teacher, he generously offers many practical leads and suggestions for future research, with the full realization that paradigms change very slowly.



1- Gold, Thomas. 2001. The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels. Copernicus Books, NY, (Forward by Freeman Dyson, pp. v-ix)

2- Biography, Thomas Gold;

3- Gold, Thomas. 2001. The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels. Copernicus Books, NY

4- DeRosa, Neil. 2004. Apocryphal Science: Creative Genius and Modern Heresies. Hamilton Books, Lanham, Maryland; p. 99, in which is discussed Tom Van Flandern’s fission model for the origin of the solar system. An in-depth elaboration of that theory can be found at:

5– Anderson, Roger, N. “Recovering dynamic Gulf of Mexico reserves and the U.S. energy future,” Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University; Most of paragraphs in this article were published in the week of April 26, 1993 by OIL&GAS JOURNAL.

6- Donofrio, Richard, R. 2005. “Siljan Crater Findings Reported to Vatenfall in 1984 remain unchanged.”

7- Hunt, C. Warren. Letter to Infinite Energy.,ed.htm

8- Briggs, John. 1989. Letter to V. A. Ktayushkin and associated written matter.

9- Pinsker, Lisa, M. 2005. “Feuding Over the Origins of Fossil Fuels,” Geotimes.




“Don't go where the path leads. Rather go where there is no path and leave a trail."Ralph Waldo Emerson



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