A question that I am frequently asked during the course of our presentations is, If the earth is only 6,000 years old, then how did the fossil fuels of coal and oil come into existence? Hopefully, I can make the answer simple to understand.
Coal and oil are found sandwiched between sedimentary rock layers. Sedimentary rock layers are basically layers of dried out mud. This means that all the layers, including the layers of coal and oil, were laid down primarily by the action of water in a flood. In addition, almost all coal and oil is derived from vegetation.
Coal (charred animal remains) and oil produced from animal remains contains nitrogen products that are not found in oil that comes from vegetable materials. Thus, it is easy to tell one type of deposit from the other.
Most people are startled to learn that coal and oil are basically the same thing. The only real difference is the amount of water contained within the deposits!
To understand how coal and oil are formed it is easiest to think of what happens when you cook a pie in the oven. We have all seen what happens when a pie filling is heated and spills out of the pie container and over the edge onto the oven or a tray under the pie pan. You get a gooey or charred substance that is hard to remove. The more burned the filling is, the harder and more blackened the deposit will be.
What is happening to the pie filling is that the sugar (a hydrocarbon) is being dehydrated by the heat of the cooking process in the oven. The hotter and/or longer the heat is applied, the harder and blacker the deposit on the tray. Basically, the blackened pie filling might be thought as a form of low grade coal.
Wood is made out of cellulose, a sugar. Consider what happens if you quickly bury a large amount of vegetable material in the ground. The process of decomposition produces heat that starts to dehydrate the vegetable material. The loss of water, however, causes a further heating of the deposit. The generation of heat by dehydration causes more heating, that in turn causes further water loss. If the process is contained so that the heat is not dissipated quickly, the cycle of heating and drying continues rapidly.
One of two processes will occur because of the vegetable materials being heated in the ground. If the water of dehydration can leak out of the geological formation leaving the dried and dehydrated materials behind you will end up with coal. If the water of dehydration is trapped within the geological formation and cannot escape you will end up with oil.
There is a straight line progression in the amount of water contained within (the degree of dehydration, or the degree of reduction in water content) materials as you progress from peat to lignite (brown coal) to bituminous coals to anthracite coals.
A necessary ingredient in the formation of fossil fuels is the presence of kaolin clays. These clays are a common component of volcanic activity, particularly within volcanic ash.
Coal and oil are the obvious result of the activity of Noah's Flood. During the Flood of Noah (about 4,350 years ago) great amounts of superheated water came up out of the earth and mixed with the waters that were on the surface and those that rained down from above. In addition, the hot rock and hot ash from thousands of volcanoes was available to generate many layers of heated sedimentary materials. Ground makes a very good insulator capable of maintaining heat for long periods of time.
At the beginning of the Flood thousands of volcanoes mowed down forests all over the world. Volcanic ash fell on top of huge floating log mats. When those log mats were buried in-between the heated sedimentary layers deposited by the Flood, coal and oil were formed in a short amount of time.
Laboratory research in the past few decades has shown that coal and oil may be formed quickly. In May of 1972, George R. Hill, Dean of the College of Mines and Mineral Industries wrote an article published in the Journal of Chemical Technology , now know as Chemtech . On p. 292, he commented:
A rather startling and serendipitous discovery resulted. . . . These observations suggest that in their formation, high rank coals, . . . were probably subjected to high temperature at some stage in their history. A possible mechanism for formation of these high rank coals could have been a short time, rapid heating event.
What happened was that Hill made coal (indistinguishable from natural coal); and, he did it in six hours.
Over 20 years ago British researchers invented a way to turn household garbage into an oil suitable for use in home heating and for use in electric power plant generation. On February 26, 1982 , a reporter for the Sentinel Star quoted Noel McAuliffe of Manchester University.
We are doing in 10 minutes what it has taken nature 150 million years to do.
While I completely disagree with his belief in a time period that existed 150 million years ago, his statement that oil was formed in only 10 minutes is the key point.
Natural coal may also be formed quickly. Argonne National Laboratories has reported on research proving that under natural conditions coal may be formed in only 36 weeks.
In an article published in Organic Geochemistry Vol. 6:463-471, 1984 (Oxidative Degradation Studies and Modern Concepts of the Formation and Transformation of Organic Constituents of Coals and Sedimentary Rocks, Ryoichi Hayatsu, Randall E. Winans, Robert L. McBeth, Robert G. Scott and Leon P. Moore, Chemistry Division Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL 60439 USA.) it was reported that all that was required for coal to form was that wood with kaolin clay as a catalyst must be buried deep enough that there is no oxygen, with a ground temperature of 150 degrees Celsius, and you will get coal in only 36 weeks. Further, it was noted that if the temperature were higher, the coal would form faster.
More on rapid formation of natural oil? Middleton, Holyland, Loewenthal and Bruner reported in Journal of The Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia , No. 24, 1996, pp. 6-12:
Bottom line - Economic accumulations of oil and natural gas can be generated in thousands of years in sedimentary [dried out mud layers] basins that have experienced hot fluid flow for similar durations.
The hot wet mud layers that existed after the Flood of Noah would have provided the perfect locations and conditions for rapid coal, oil and gas formation.
What is even more intriguing is that natural oil and gas may not be the finite limited resources that so many have believed them to be. On April 16, 1999 , a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled It's No Crude Joke: This Oil Field Grows Even as It's Tapped . The article started:
Houston - Something mysterious is going on at Eugene Island 330.
Production at the oil field, deep in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana , was supposed to have declined years ago. And for a while, it behaved like any normal field: following its 1973 discovery, Eugene Island 330's output peaked at about 15,000 barrels a day. By 1989, production had slowed to about 4,000 barrels a day.
Then suddenly . . . Eugene Island 's fortunes reversed. The field, operated by Pennz-Energy Co., is now producing 13,000 barrels a day and probable reserves have rocketed to more than 400 million barrels from 60 million. Stranger still, scientists studying the field say the crude coming out of the pipe is of a geological age quite different from the oil that gushed 10 years ago.
So, oil appears to be still forming in the earth; and, it is of a better grade than that which was originally found. The more research that is done, the more we are finding out that natural forces are still at work producing new oil!