My earlier Acts & Facts article “Oil, Fracking, and a Recent Global Flood” dealt with the origin of hydrocarbons and the oil generation process.1 This article will examine the timing of oil and gas generation and their migration into reservoirs. Unfortunately, the scientific information communicated to the public is slanted by pro-evolutionary rhetoric. The occurrence of oil is even used as an argument against a recent global flood. Evolutionist David Montgomery insists all sedimentary rocks could not have formed during the year-long Flood, arguing that “a literal reading of the Bible requires that such rocks already existed at the time of the Flood because bitumen, the pitch or tar Noah used to caulk the ark (Genesis 6:14), comes from sedimentary rock.”2
However, as Dr. Henry M. Morris III pointed out, the Hebrew word used in this verse, kopher, doesn’t literally translate as “pitch.” He stated, “The word is used 17 times in the Old Testament, and is translated ‘pitch’ only in Genesis 6:14. Most of the time, kopher is translated with some term that represents money.”3 It seems that kopher was some sort of expensive (hence the possible reference to money) sheathing or covering that was placed over the wood of the Ark. Dr. Morris added that “the kopher that sheathed or coated the Ark is not specified….The idea that kopher was liquid is merely assumed….Even if the material was a liquid coating, the development of resins or other non-petroleum coating materials has long been known to man.”3
Once the floodwaters drained off the continents, deeply buried marine algal and planktonic deposits that were disseminated in the sediments (source rocks) began to heat up, reaching the geothermal gradients we observe today. How quickly did this heating occur, and how rapidly was oil generated?
Let’s first look at the biblical record. In Genesis 11:3 in the narration about the building of the Tower of Babel, God says, “They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar.” The Hebrew word for asphalt is chemar, which is sometimes translated as bitumen, cement, or slime. So here, unlike the use of the Hebrew word kopher, the Bible is describing a tar or bitumen product, essentially a hydrocarbon.
Although the Bible doesn’t give us the specific number of years between the Flood and the Tower of Babel, we do have some time constraints. In Genesis 10:25 we read that the earth was divided in the days of Peleg. Assuming the word “divided” meant the division of the languages at Babel, Dr. Morris wrote, “Since he [Peleg] was born 101 (+4) years after the Flood and lived 239 years (Genesis 11:18-19), that gives a range of around 100 to around 340 years after the Flood during which the division could have taken place.”4 This gives us a relatively narrow time window of under 400 years for oil to have generated from the Flood sediments.
Is this too short a timeframe for oil to form? Not at all, as it’s been known for decades that crude oil porphyrin (one of the common chemicals in crude oil) can be generated in a laboratory setting in as few as 12 hours.5,6 And late in 2013, engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory reported they were able to transform harvested algae into crude oil in less than one hour!7 There is no reason to think this process could not have occurred naturally in as few as 100 years after the Flood.
What about oil migrating to the earth’s surface? In all likelihood, oil bubbled out of seeps at the surface near the Tower of Babel in quantities generous enough to be utilized as mortar. Moreover, Genesis 14:10 references other oil seeps during the time of Abram in an area near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah where “the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits.” Based on biblical genealogies (Genesis 11:10-28), these seeps developed in less than 500 years after the Flood.8
Unfortunately, little is known about oil migration from source rock to reservoir. A recent AAPG Bulletin article began by stating, “Hydrocarbon migration is by far one of the most important and yet least understood topics in petroleum geology.”9 Oil migrates as a fluid through small openings (pore spaces) in the rock layers much like water, and its flow rate is governed by the same fluid dynamics as water. Groundwater moves, on average, about 50 feet per year, but oil is a larger molecule than water and therefore struggles to pass though small openings. Although the migration of oil is relatively slow, biblical history shows oil made it to the surface within just a few centuries after deposition of the source rocks.
Oil quickly degrades from bacterial action since it is an organic compound, unable to survive for millions of years.1 Biodegraded oils are common in reservoirs around the world, including the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, offshore Nigeria, and the tar sands in Alberta.10 Other shallow reservoirs seem to be unaffected by biodegradation. Although secular scientists admit these non-biodegraded oils may be the result of recent recharge, they consider this process unlikely because they insist many of these oils are millions of years old.10
Uniformitarian geologists attempt to explain “ancient oil” in reservoirs by invoking an unusual process known as “paleosterilization” to prevent oil from biodegrading.10 They hypothesize that bacterial action in oil reservoirs ceases at temperatures above 176oF, thereby preventing bacterial action in the rocks containing the oil. If reservoir rocks exceed this threshold temperature, they argue, bacterial action not only ceases but remains inactive for millions of years.10
However, uniformitarian scientists forget bacteria thrive in even the most extreme conditions, such as the geothermal waters at Yellowstone National Park and hydrothermal vents in the oceans where thermophilic bacteria flourish at temperatures of 113oF to 252oF. And even if the rocks were “sterilized,” groundwater would quickly transport an influx of new bacteria to replenish the “dead” zone. Therefore, any non-biodegraded oil reservoirs in the world today must be recently generated and freshly recharged.
Finally, how long would it take to fill the numerous reservoirs that hold vast quantities of oil today? Much depends on the size of the trap that holds the oil, the amount of organic material in the source rocks, and the development of pathways (pores, fractures, and faults) to the reservoir beneath the trap. One of the few studies that tried to quantify this process was conducted in the Gippsland Basin, Australia.11 Andrew Snelling summarized the research results, explaining that “it has been concluded that petroleum generation must still be occurring at the present time, with the products migrating relatively rapidly either into traps or even to the surface.”12 It is therefore likely that many other areas are still generating oil and it is actively migrating to traps even today. This presents the possibility that some depleted oilfields may partially refill over the next century. Recent generation also explains the non-biodegraded oils that are found across the globe. Thus, the processes of oil generation, migration, and entrapment easily fit within the time that has elapsed since the Flood less than 4,500 years ago, even at the slow percolation rates in the subsurface.
- Clarey, T. 2013. Oil, Fracking, and a Recent Global Flood. Acts & Facts. 42 (10): 14.
- Montgomery, D. R. 2012. The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 235.
- Morris III, H. M. 2013. The Book of Beginnings, Volume Two: Noah, the Flood, and the New World. Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 30-32.
- Ibid, 127.
- DiNello, R. K and C. K. Chang. 1978. Isolation and modification of natural porphyrins. In The Porphyrins, Volume 1: Structure and Synthesis, Part A. Dolphin, D., ed. New York: Academic Press, 328.
- Snelling, A. A. 2009. Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation & the Flood, Volume 2. Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 971.
- Rickey, T. Algae to crude oil: Million-year natural process takes minutes in the lab. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory news release. Posted on pnnl.gov December 17, 2013, accessed January 2, 2014.
- Morris, The Book of Beginnings, Volume Two, 188.
- Pang, H. et al. 2013. Analysis of secondary migration of hydrocarbons in the Ordovician carbonate reservoirs in the Tazhong uplift, Tarim Basin, China. AAPG Bulletin. 97 (10): 1765.
- Wilhelms, A. et al. 2001. Biodegradation of oil in uplifted basins prevented by deep-burial sterilization. Nature. 411 (6841):1034-1037.
- Shibaoka, M., J. D. Saxby, and G. H. Taylor. 1978. Hydrocarbon generation in Gippsland Basin, Australia; comparison with Cooper Basin, Australia. AAPG Bulletin. 62 (7): 1151-1158.
- Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past, 973.
* Dr. Clarey is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in geology from Western Michigan University.