The British say mee-thane, I say methane. Let’s call the whole thing off.
Driving home from a friend’s place in the country, I flicked on the radio to keep me company. Anyone who has driven solo late at night has found that weird world of AM radio where guests have been kidnapped by aliens, know the secrets of Area 51, or claim hydrogen peroxide can cure everything from plantar warts to cancer.
The stations come in clear as mountain water from places like Toronto, Oklahoma City or Chihuahua, Mexico.
The host and his guest were discussing abiogenic petroleum and methane – natural gas and crude oil that was not formed by the breakdown of dead dinosaurs or Jurassic ferns. The man was just starting to make sense when the signal failed, leaving me alone with a car full of static.
The next day I found a magazine article on the subject. The pioneer of abiotic petroleum theory in this country was Thomas Gold, an Austrian-born astronomer who died in 2004.
Gold was a genius who reveled in theories that drove other scientists mad. The abiogenic petroleum hypothesis was one of these. Like other of Gold’s theories, it has been neither debunked nor proven.
The idea of crude creation not involving plants or animals first surfaced in the 1600s. American scientists walked away from it in the 1950s – not because they found holes in it but because it did nothing to locate new oil reserves.
Proponents of the theory contend that the Canadian oil sands were soaked by abiogenic crude rising to the surface. They also estimate deep reserves of methane - enough to replace fossil fuels for 500 million years.
Could it be possible that abiogenic crude and methane, produced by physical and chemical processes deeper than any company has ever drilled, might solve our energy problems?
It’s not likely, but neither was the notion that a played-out North Dakota oil patch would become the Saudi Arabia of American petroleum production.
Fracking (a process of injecting fluid into deep wells to break up shale and free trapped oil and gas) revived the North Dakota fields in the Williston Basin. Might not new technology provide access to abiogenic crude (if it exists)?
While pondering a possible abiogenic future, it occurred to me that Tom Gold’s oil and gas might solve our energy problem but would hasten global warming. Imagine a time when gasoline sold for a dime a gallon and the gas we burn in our furnaces and kitchen ranges would be too cheap to meter.
If we had it, we would use it. In no time at all our carbon footprint would look like sasquatch tracks.
My wandering mind returned from the bowels of hell where Gold’s hydrocarbons may be cooking to the present where polar bears are drowning, oceans are rising and glaciers are melting.
Reports that cattle produce more methane than 1950s Buicks have boosted the stock of vegan diets. I am not ready to trade beefsteak for tofu, but I have a hot idea for lowering the mee-thane in the atmosphere. Watching animal TV has become my favorite vice. Some of these shows feature guys catching feral pythons in the Everglades or rednecks snaring alligators or catching catfish by hand.
The best of the genre are shot in Africa where hyenas, crocodiles and lions kill in packs and feed on wildebeests. Wildebeests are gnus and none of them are good. There are at least a billion wildebeests, give or take a few million. Each one produces enough methane to heat the average American house.
No need to kill them all. We could trim the herds until the Arctic Ocean froze over again and sunken island shores reemerged.
Do these sound like wacked-out ideas? You say wildebeests are antelopes, not cows, and we should leave them alone? You think Tom Gold was a German fruit cake?
Well … check this American tale:
Jimmy Carter was the only American president to wage peace. He signed into law a schedule of gas mileage standards for new cars. Finally, to set an example, he mounted 32 solar panels atop the White House to capture heat from the sun. Had the mileage schedule survived, the United States would be an oil exporting nation today.
Reagan (whom most Republicans consider the greatest president ever) crushed Carter in the 1980 presidential election. Shortly thereafter, Reagan repealed the new car mileage standards and ordered the White House solar panels taken down.
Jimmy Carter was regarded by nearly all Republicans and many Democrats as the worst president since William Henry Harrison held an inaugural crowd captive until he talked himself to death.
P.S. Tom Gold said “methane.”