Dr. Soon’s comments on the discussion of the origin of fossil fuels
In the first part of the interview, Tucker Carlson asked Dr. Soon some questions about the possibility that hydrocarbons (gas, oil and coal) could be produced “abiogenically” as opposed to requiring a biological source.
Gas, oil and coal are commonly referred to as “fossil fuels”. The term is based on the concept that all of these hydrocarbons where formed millions of years ago when prehistoric plants and animals died and were gradually buried by layers of rock. That is, they are supposedly all formed from the compression of biological “fossils” that became buried under ground for millions of years.
Dr. Soon was pointing out that there is considerable evidence that this is not the only way that hydrocarbons can be produced:
For example, in a 2009 paper in Nature Geoscience, Kolesnikov and colleagues showed that under very high pressures and temperatures, methane gas can be converted into short-chained hydrocarbons (https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo591).
Another example they discussed was the fact that liquid methane and small-chained hydrocarbons are found in Saturn’s moon, Titan – see Mastrogiuseppe and colleagues (2019), Nature Astronomy; https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-019-0714-2; Hayes (2016). Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-earth-060115-012247.
Meanwhile, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have also been found in Titan’s atmosphere – see Zhao and colleagues (2018), Nature Astronomy, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-018-0585-y.
They also mentioned that multiple chlorinated hydrocarbons have been identified on Mars by the Curiosity rover – see Freissinet and colleagues (2015), Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, https://doi.org/10.1002/2014JE004737.
Finally, several studies have suggested that PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) can also be formed in interstellar space (i.e., deep space in between stars). E.g., Dorian S. N. Parker and colleagues (2011), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1113827108.
But what does all of this mean?
From Dr. Soon’s perspective, it means we should be careful not to assume all of the hydrocarbons on Earth are “fossil fuels”. We do not yet know what percentage of the Earth’s hydrocarbons were formed from biological fossils and what percentage were formed from non-biological (“abiogenic”) processes.
However, it should be stressed that this does not necessarily mean that our accessible hydrocarbon reserves are limitless. As Dr. Soon pointed out the conditions Kolesnikov and colleagues (2009) showed could produce hydrocarbons abiogenically occur very deep underground – at least 50-100 miles. In contrast, the deepest oil or gas drill so far have only been 6 to 8 miles deep.
Dr. Soon also pointed out that current drills are not able to extract 100% of the oil and gas in the reserves – as the oil or gas is extracted, the pressure required to extract more becomes greater until it eventually becomes impractical to remove (with current technology, including fracking).
So, in terms of practical gas, oil and coal exploration, arguably it does not make much difference how the hydrocarbons in the known reserves were produced. Moreover, most coal, oil and gas companies spend considerable financial resources in the exploration of new reserves. This shows that from an economic perspective, the companies that are most heavily invested in the existing reserves are actively seeking new potential sites to drill.
On the other hand, as Dr. Soon later discussed, the widespread debates over “limited resources” and “renewable energies” are often non-scientific and unrealistic.
For more details on some of the topics discussed, below is a background presentation in pdf format: