Fossil Fuels?

A while back I wrote about the abiogenic theory of petroleum production. According to Wikipedia:

The theory of abiogenic petroleum origin holds that natural petroleum was formed from deep carbon deposits, perhaps dating to theformation of the Earth. The ubiquity of hydrocarbons in the solar system is taken as evidence that there may be a great deal more petroleum on Earth than commonly thought, and that petroleum may originate from carbon-bearing fluids which migrate upward from the mantle.

The theory thus challenges the view that petroleum products are “fossil fuels” created over millions of years by the decaying of dinosaurs and ancient pre-historic plant life. It argues that petroleum may be a renewable resource that flows up from the magma. In fact, it is a theory that has had a recent resurgence to popularity with the release of the book “The Deep Hot Biosphere” by Thomas Gold.

Why do I bring this up? First, my daughter is a geology major, and so I have renewed interest in all things “rock.” Even more recently, I have been reading the book “Omnivore’s Dilemma” in which the author, Pollan, constantly refers to the use of “fossil fuels” in the production of food. It struck me, after reading this over, and over again, that he has “bought in” to the traditional view completely. He rarely if ever refers to this as “petroleum products.” I have since noticed that the use of the term “fossil fuel” is quite prevalent in the media–far more so than the non-value statement petroleum.

I am sure this seems silly, but to me it is significant. By labeling this “fossil fuel” rather than “petroleum products” the authors are passing scientific judgment–that this is the way the oil is created. Not simply what type of product it is. It appears to me that by using “fossil fuel” as a phrase, people are trying to convey far more than simply a discussion about the pre-historic source of our fuel.

Now when would fossil fuel be a more appropriate word to use? When discussing coal, for instance.

I am not convinced that oil is produced through abiogenic processes, but I am convinced that there is still healthy debate concerning the topic.


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