The Chemistry of Oil - Explained by Flood Geology
by David R. McQueen, M.S.
It is clear that exploration for oil is an essential activity in our modern world and that the search for new areas of oil and gas accumulation would be aided by a better understanding of the origin of petroleum. Many scientists recognize the link between the origin of oil and exploration. As Baker and Palmer point out:
Implicit in such (chemical) interest by both the public and the entrepreneurs is the feeling that understanding petrogenesis must eventually lead to more effective exploration. 1
Christians, in particular, should be concerned about origins because the study of "beginnings" always brings us back to God's history book, the Bible, for resolution. The chemistry of oil strongly suggests that it was formed rapidly from the remains of plant and animal matter. Oil probably originates in sedimentary rocks which were originally deposited by moving water. This is exactly what we would expect from the year-long Flood of Noah's day. A very reasonable model of petrogenesis can be based on the assumption that most of the oil and gas deposits of our day date from the worldwide Flood of about 2500 B.C., or about 1600 years after Creation.
The classic problem faced by the petroleum industry, since its U.S. inception by Drake in 1859, has always been how to find underground traps of the oil by looking and experimenting at the earth's surface. This is accomplished today by measuring folds and faults (structural geology), studying the detailed sequence of rocks in an area (stratigraphy), and testing using artificial earthquake energy (seismic exploration). But how did the oil and gas get into the trap? Most theories hold that the petroleum moved through porous rock, perhaps over great distances, to get to the final trapping area. This process is termed migration. The rocks in which the oil and gas originated, before migration, are called source rocks. 2 There is disagreement as to whether the origin of hydrocarbons (both oil and natural gas) in the source rocks was organic or inorganic. Some workers maintain that the source of natural gas, especially, must be deep within the earth, where igneous activity could generate it inorganically. 3 From this deep source, it could then migrate upward into sedimentary rocks. Proponents of the organic theory, on the other hand, suggest that most petroleum started out as plants and animals which were buried in the source rocks and then chemically altered into crude oil and gas. The chemistry of oil, therefore, holds one of the keys to understanding how petroleum originates.
Petroleum is a complex mixture of organic compounds, all of which provide clues to some aspect of its origin, burial in sediments and chemical modification. A porphyrin is one such chemical that is found in crude oil and also in plants and blood. Interestingly, porphyrins break down rapidly in the presence of oxygen or other oxidizing conditions. Geologists often suggest that porphyrins are evidence for widespread reducing environments during the deposition of petroleum source rocks. However, this is not the best explanation for porphyrin preservation. Rapid sedimentation would also cut off the porphyrins from oxidizing agents and would allow their preservation as components of crude oil. Since crude oil porphyrins are indicators of rapid sedimentation, the details and context of these fascinating chemicals provide yet another evidence for a worldwide, catastrophic flood.
Porphyrins are structurally similar to both chlorophyll and hemoglobin molecules. They are classified as tetrapyrrole compounds and often contain metals such as nickel and vanadium. 4 Porphyrins are broken apart by two common geologic circumstances, oxidizing conditions and high temperatures. As Russell 5 puts it:
Porphyrins are complex organic substances related to chlorophyll and hemoglobin, which are destroyed by oxygen and heat.
In our present world, the areas of high sedimentation rates, 6 such as river deltas in coastal zones, have oxidizing conditions. Therefore, uniformitarian geologists have been forced to the point of view expressed by Levorsen 7 in one of the standard petroleum geology textbooks:
The origin of petroleum is within an anaerobic and reducing environment. The presence of porphyrins in some petroleums means that anaerobic conditions developed early in the life of such petroleums, for chlorophyll derivatives, such as the porphyrins, are easily and rapidly oxidized and decomposed under aerobic conditions.
But Tissot and Welte 8 have suggested another way that organic matter containing porphyrins can be preserved:
The main reason for the higher preservation rate in the Black Sea is probably the slower degradation of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. Up to a certain point, a high sedimentation rate can also help to preserve organic material.PREDICTIONS AND TESTS OF A FLOOD GEOLOGY MODEL
If a "high sedimentation rate" will preserve organic material, a catastrophic sedimentation rate, such as we envision for the worldwide Flood, would uproot, kill, and bury organic material so rapidly as to cut the porphyrins off from oxidizing agents which would destroy them in the ocean water. Under this model, flood geologists would predict that porphyrins should be commonly found in sedimentary rocks. This hypothesis can be tested in the published literature of petroleum geochemistry. Consider the following conclusion from Tissot and Welte: 9
Petroleum porphyrins . . . have been identified in a sufficient number of sediments and crude oils to establish a wide distribution of these geochemical fossils.
As to the percentages of these chemicals found in crude oils, Tissot and Welte report that porphyrins vary from traces to 400 ppm (.04%) 10 This is a small amount, but one which experiments would predict even under rapid burial and alteration conditions. DiNello and Chang 11 report the breakdown of a plant porphyrin in about three days under an experimental procedure which reached a temperature of 210 degrees C for about a 12-hour period. As they conclude:
The yield of pure pyrrhoporphyrin is about .5 gm from 100 gm of crude chlorophyll extract.
In other words, they produced a .5% concentration of a type of porphyrin found in oil from plant material in one day. A crude oil porphyrin can be made from chlorophyll (and presumably hemoglobin) in even less than 12 hours. Fuhrhop and Smith found that 80% of the porphyrins in a sealed glass tube were broken down when heated to 165 degrees C for four hours in the presence of vanadium tetrachloride. 12 Our young earth, Flood geology, model requires that this geochemical fossil, a porphyrin, be produced from starter chemicals very rapidly. The research of DiNello and Chang, along with Fuhrhop and Smith, shows that porphyrins can be produced from chlorophyll in a matter of hours. This substantiates at least one important aspect of this creationist model for the origin of petroleum.
I presented this "porphyrin argument" in the pre-trial testimony phrase of the 1981 Arkansas Balanced Treatment case as evidence that earth history has been dominated by processes operating at a rate, scale, and intensity of catastrophic proportions. 13 The Arkansas trial has prompted many comments to the effect that creationism is not science, including this editorial opinion from the international science journal, Nature: 14
Many working scientists, finding that it (creationism) does not help in ordering thought or designing experiments, are tempted to dismiss it as rubbish.
Despite such propaganda, a Creation/Flood model does open many new avenues of scientific thought. As a creationist working on the origin of petroleum, the Flood geology model actually opened up new thoughts to me, such as the explanation of porphyrin preservation due to catastrophic sedimentation rates rather than widespread reducing environments. Testable hypotheses could be formulated and potentially falsified by organic geochemistry. Flood geology provides an explanation for the presence of porphyrins in crude oil, superior to the standard evolutionary geologic thinking. The creationist viewpoint actually opens up new research areas and experimental designs. For example, note the structural similarity of the crude oil porphyrin not only to chlorophyll but also heme, a component of blood. Because of evolutionary bias, many petroleum geologists think of crude oil forming from mostly plant material. While more research needs to be done, it seems that crude oil porphyrins could, just as well, be the decayed remains of blood. Is it possible that the chemistry of petroleum could contain trace biochemical markers of vertebrate animal and even ancient, antediluvian human blood? In conclusion, Flood geology provides a consistent explanation for the presence of porphyrins in crude oil, and also opens up new research possibilities in the strategic field of petroleum geology.
1 Baker, E., E.W. and Palmer, S.E., 1978, "Geochemistry of Porphyrins," in David Dolphin, ed., The Porphyrins (vol. 1: Structure and Synthesis, Part A): New York, Academic Press, p. 545.
2 Levorsen, A.I., 1967, Geology of Petroleum (Second Edition): San Francisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, pp. 3-31.
3 Gold, T. and Soter, S., 1980, "The deep-earth gas hypothesis:" Scientific American, v. 242, n. 6, pp. 154-161.
4 Tissot, B.P. and Welte, D.H., 1984, Petroleum Formation and Occurrence, (Second Edition): Berlin, Springer-Verlag, pp. 409, 410.
5 Russell, W.L., 1960, Principles of Petroleum Geology (Second Edition): New York; McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., p. 25.
6 Walker, K.R., et. al., 1983, "A model for carbonate to terrigenous clastic sequences:" Geologic Society of America Bulletin, v. 94, pp. 700-712.
7 Levorsen, op. cit., p. 502.
8 Tissot and Welte, op. cit., p. 12.
9 Ibid., p. 128.
10 Ibid., p. 410.
11 DiNello, R.K. and Chang, C.K., 1978, "Isolation and Modification of Natural Porphyrins," in Dolphin, op. cit., p. 328.
12 Fuhrhop, J.H. and Smith, K.M. (Compilers), 1975, Laboratory Methods in Porphyrin and Metalloporphyrin Research: Amsterdam, Elsevier, p. 42.
13 U.S. District Courts, Arkansas, 1981, Oral deposition of David Ralph McQueen: Atlanta, Bull & Associates, 194 pp.
14 Nature, 1981, "Tolerance but no quarter for creationism," vol. 4, 3 Dec 1981, p. 389.
*Mr. McQueen is Assistant Professor of Geology at the ICR Graduate School. He earned his Master's degree in Geology from the University of Michigan while a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow.