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Theories of origin of petroleum

• Even though believer of organic origin of petroleum

agrees on its origin, they differ on the issues related to
– The process of formation and the primary organic
constituents, i.e., marine / continental origin?
– Quantity of present day petroleum as directly obtained from
hydrocarbon of living organisms or by the transformation of
hydrocarbon compounds into petroleum?
– Nature of energy involved in the transformation? Viz.
biochemical action, heat and pressure, radioactivity,
catalytic phenomena, etc.
• As far as the occurrence of petroleum is concerned, two
schools of thought prevails:
– All petroleum was formed in place, either at or adjacent to
the position of the present pools
– Petroleum has migrated from areas of origin to trap areas
i.e., source area doesn’t necessarily coincide with the
accumulation area.
Theories of origin of petroleum
• Cosmic theory

• Bertheiot (1865), Mendaleef (1877) suggested the

formation of petroleum in the earth’s interior by the
action of water on metallic carbides such as those of Ca
and Fe. Another proposed mechanism involved the
interaction of alkali metals with CO2 and water

• Metallic Carbide + H2O vapor = CH4 + metallic hydroxide

• Free alkali + CO2 + H2O vapor = CH4 + alkali hydroxide

• Mantle theory/ Gold’s earthquake out gassing theory

(Gold,1979; Sugisaki et al, 1983; Gold and Held,1987).
Enriched d13C of methane from the hot spots of red sea,
Lake Kivu (East Africa), and East Pacific rise depicts an
abiogenic origin (Mac Donald, 1983).
Theories of origin of petroleum
• Reasons favouring organic origin of proto-petroleum:

 The vast amount of organic matter and hydrocarbons

now found are in the sediments of the earth; and carbon
and hydrogen predominate in the remains of both plant
and animal organic matter

 Petroleum crude is a complex mixture of hydrocarbon

compounds belonging to a number of homologous
series which, with no stretch of imagination, can be
synthesized from elemental stage

 Many ‘crudes’ have been found to contain porphyrin

pigments – an essential component of all forms of life
Theories of origin of petroleum
 Most of the ‘crudes’ contain nitrogen – an essential
component of amino acids [CH2(NH2)COOH] – a basic
constituent of life
 All forms of ‘crude’ posses the property of rotating the
plane polarized light which is possessed by cholesterol
(C26H45OH) – again an essential component of both
plant and animal life. Only inorganic substances which
possess this property are cinnabar (HgS) and quartz
 The intimate relation of organic matter with the
petroleum in the sediments leaves little doubt that
organic matter was the original source of the petroleum
Theories of origin of petroleum

Although the components of petroleum unite to form an extremely

complex mixture, the elemental chemical analyses of most petroleum
are remarkably similar, even of those vary widely in physical
properties. Most petroleum is chiefly composed of 11-15% hydrogen
and 82-87% carbon by weight.

Element Crude oil Asphalt Natural gas Organic material

(wt %) (wt %) (wt %) (wt%)
C 82.2 – 87.1 80 – 85 65 – 80 52 – 71
H 11.7 – 14.7 5 – 11 1 – 25 5 – 10
S 0.1 – 5.5 2–8 Trace – 0.2 5 – 20
N 0.7 – 1.5 0–2 1 – 15 4–6
O 0.1 – 4.5 – – –
Duplex origin of petroleum

 An abiologically formed oil might have been resulted from

processes involving Fischer – Tropsch type reactions occurring
long before the first sediments were formed. The first living
organisms then used this hydrocarbon mixture as a source of
carbon and hydrogen, and possibly also of nitrogen and sulfur.

 Genesis of petroleum by Fischer – Tropsch synthesis (a method to

produce synthethetic hydrocarbon) is as follows

C + Fe + H + OH  CH4 + C2H6 + C3H8 + C4H10 + FeO

CO2 + HOH + Fe  CH4 + FeO
C + HOH + Fe  CH4 + CO2 + H2
CO2 + H2  CH4 + H2O
Duplex origin of petroleum
• CO2 and Hydrogen are passed over a catalyst of
haematite and magnetite at temperature in excess of

• Robinson (1963) suggested this process could

produce methane and liquid petroleum in nature.
Szatmari (1986, 1989) discussed this process in the
light of plate tectonics. According to him,
hydrocarbon could be generated by F – T process at
convergent plate boundaries where sedimentary
rocks and oceanic crust undergo subduction.
Carbon dioxide could be produced by the
metamorphism of carbonates, and hydrogen by the
serpentinization of ophiolites. The latter would
provide the iron oxides necessary to catalyse the
Origin of petroleum
Criteria for a sedimentary rock to be effective oil
source rock
• TOC content > 0.4%
• Elemental carbon: 75 – 90% (< 75% - immature;
• > 90% due to advanced catagenesis)
• Bitumen : TOC > 0.05
• Kerogen should be of amorphous or oil prone type
rather than of structured or gas prone type
• Vitrinite reflectance (RO) > 0.6 and < 1.3
• H : C and O : C atomic ratios of kerogen residues
should be favourable. Principle phase of oil
formation occurs at an H : C between 0.84 and 0.69.