The Deep Hot Biosphere : The Myth of Fossil Fuels

Publication Type:





Springer | Copernicus, New York (1998)








Thomas Gold (1920-2004), Cornell astronomer and brilliant scientific gadfly.

The Abiogenic Theory of Petroleum Formation

Editor's Note: If we bust the myths about global warming and fossil fuels - the growing scarcity of our oil supply, and can replant lots of trees, by Freeman Dyson's estimates, a trillion, to remove all the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere now, with a lot more needed by 2050, as India, China, Brazil, etc. industrialize; then we only have to worry about methane from gas flares, and the melting of the tundra permafrost to prevent humanity from reaching the "tipping-point" of our destruction.

The Earth will undoubtedly survive, but we won't. Global Warming must be addressed by all governments, NGO's, citizen activists, and corporations. Drilling Isn't Safe. (Neil Zusman, 2010-11-14.)

Deep within the earth's crust there exists a second biosphere, composed of very primitive heat-loving bacteria and containing perhaps more living matter than is present on the earth's surface...

...Gold joins the deep hot biosphere argument to another, perhaps even more controversial theory for which he has marshalled evidence: that so-called fossil fuels originate not from compressed biological matter at all but from deep within the earth, present there since the planet's formation, long before our oxygen-rich surface biosphere came into existence.

The pattern of petroleum deposits and the mix of elements associated with them around the world, the dramatic results of a Swedish drilling project (1990) in non-sedimentary rock, and indications that some petroleum reserves are refilling - this is some of the evidence that supports Gold's thesis and cannot be adequately accounted for by conventional theories.

The implications of Gold's views are no less far-reaching than the theories behind them. The deep hot biosphere and deep-earth gas theories shed light on the nature of earthquakes, they suggest that reservoirs of petroleum and certain metal ores are much vaster (though not necessarily more accessible) than generally claimed, and they help to answer two of the most profound mysteries of the biological sciences: the origins of life on earth and the prospects of extraterrestrial life.

Did life develop from the deep hot biosphere? Are Mars and other planets as lifeless as they seem, or might they too be found to contain deep hot biospheres, if only scientists would look below the surface. --from the book jacket, 1999 edition.

Chapter 4. Evidence for Deep-Earth Gas

Chapter 5. Resolving the Petroleum Paradox

Chapter 6. The Siljan Experiment

Schematic image showing how the deep-earth gas theory would account for the helium association with methane (p. 76). Perhaps drilling deeper would make hydraulic fracturing and mountain-top removal unnecessary.


Gold's book has a Foreword by Freeman Dyson who is among the signatories of a letter to the UN criticizing the IPCC. He has argued against the ostracization of scientists whose views depart from the acknowledged mainstream of scientific opinion on climate change, stating that "heretics" have historically been an important force in driving scientific progress."

Heretics who question the dogmas are needed... I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies."

See: Nicholas Davidoff. NYT. 2009. "The Civil Heretic".

See: Freeman Dyson. Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society. Edge | The Third Culture. Aug. 8, 2007.

See: Kellesidis, V.C. (2009). Challenges for very deep oil and gas drilling-will there ever be a depth limit? Athens, Greece: 3rd AMIREG International Conference (2009): Assessing the Footprint of Resource Utilization and Hazardous Waste Management.

Of course, we find oil ‘where it is’, where it has remained for ages, but how was it formed? Current belief is that oil is of biotic origin, through accumulation of organic matter (plankton, single cell organisms that floated on ocean surface) and sedimentation followed by burial. For large periods organic material has been under very high pressures and temperatures, in the range of 130-150 degrees C, in a ‘cooking pot’ and gradually transformed to petroleum.

Because of its lower density, it has migrated upwards and some surfaced and was lost, while some has hit non-permeable layers (the seal) and accumulated in the porous sedimentary rocks creating the world’s oil and gas fields.

There is, however, another school of thought, not very well known until recent years, which is gaining, though, momentum. It is the theory of abiotic (or abiogenic) origin of petroleum, that hydrocarbons have been formed in the depths of earth by reduction of CO2 and H2 gases in the presence of metal catalysts (Gold and Soter, 1980; Kenney, 1994; Krayushkin et al., 1994; Glasby, 2006; Wikipedia, 2009).

The consequences of course of such a theory, if true, could be extraordinary, as earth’s mantle becomes the inexhaustible provider of the cheapest energy source on earth...

Alexandrovich Kudryavtsev (Kudryavtsev, 1951) was the first to start the theory of abiotic generation of hydrocarbons, in what has become the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of abyssal, abiotic petroleum (Kropotkin, 1986; Kenney et al., 2002). However, Abbas (1996) starts the history as early as 1877 by Mendeleev and provides a good overview as well as pros and cons about the two points of view.

See: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Beautiful Ontario Lacus: Cassini’s Guided Tour.


Ontario Lacus, the largest lake in the southern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, turns out to be a perfect exotic vacation spot, provided you can handle the frosty, subzero temperatures and enjoy soaking in liquid hydrocarbon.

See these articles:

Bluemle, J., and L. Manz. 2004. The Origin of Oil. North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources: North Dakota Feological Survey. NDGS Newsletter. 31: 1. Summer 2004.

Glasby, G. P. 2006. Abiogenic origin of hydrocarbons: An historical overview. Resource Geology 56, no. 1: 83–96.

Gold, Thomas. 1982. Abiogenic methane and the origin of petroleum. Energy Exploration & Exploitation 1, no. 2: 89–104.

———. 1992. The deep, hot biosphere. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 89, no. 13: 6045.

———. 1993. The Origin of Methane (and Oil) in the Crust of the Earth. USGS Professional Paper 1570.

U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). 1998. OFR 98-468 World Conventional Crude Oil and Natural Gas. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).