Natural petroleum seeps release equivalent of eight to 80 Exxon Valdez oil spills

Public release date: 13-May-2009 (from EurekAlert)

Contact: Stephanie Murphy

media@whoi.edu

508-289-3340

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Natural petroleum seeps release equivalent of eight to 80 Exxon Valdez oil spills

Study off Santa Barbara is first to quantify oil in sediments

Bubble of oil oozing from the ocean floor. (Credit: David Valentine)

Bubble of oil oozing from the ocean floor. (Credit: David Valentine)

A new study by researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) is the first to quantify the amount of oil residue in seafloor sediments that result from natural petroleum seeps off Santa Barbara, California.

The new study shows the oil content of sediments is highest closest to the seeps and tails off with distance, creating an oil fallout shadow. It estimates the amount of oil in the sediments down current from the seeps to be the equivalent of approximately 8-80 Exxon Valdez oil spills.

The paper is being published in the May 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

“Farwell developed and mapped out our plan for collecting sediment samples from the ocean floor,” said WHOI marine chemist Chris Reddy, referring to lead author Chris Farwell, at the time an undergraduate working with UCSB’s Dave Valentine. “After conducting the analysis of the samples, we were able to make some spectacular findings.”

There is an oil spill everyday at Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara, California, where 20-25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years.

Earlier research by Reddy and Valentine at the site found that microbes were capable of degrading a significant portion of the oil molecules as they traveled from the reservoir to the ocean bottom and that once the oil floated to sea surface, about 10 percent of the molecules evaporated within minutes.

“One of the natural questions is: What happens to all of this oil?” Valentine said. “So much oil seeps up and floats on the sea surface. It’s something we’ve long wondered. We know some of it will come ashore as tar balls, but it doesn’t stick around. And then there are the massive slicks. You can see them, sometimes extending 20 miles from the seeps. But what really is the ultimate fate?”

Based on their previous research, Valentine and Reddy surmised that the oil was sinking “because this oil is heavy to begin with,” Valentine said. “It’s a good bet that it ends up in the sediments because it’s not ending up on land. It’s not dissolving in ocean water, so it’s almost certain that it is ending up in the sediments.”

To conduct their sampling, the team used the research vessel Atlantis, the 274-foot ship that serves as the support vessel for the Alvin submersible.

“We were conducting research at the seeps using Alvin during the summer of 2007,” recalls Reddy. “One night during that two-week cruise, after the day’s Alvin dive was complete and its crew prepared the sub for the next day’s dive, Captain AD Colburn guided the Atlantis on an all-night sediment sampling campaign. It was no easy task for the crew of the Atlantis. We were operating at night, awfully close to land with a big ship where hazards are frequent. I tip my hat to Captain Colburn, his crew, and the shipboard technician for making this sampling effort so seamless.”

The research team sampled 16 locations in a 90 km2 (35 square mile) grid starting 4 km west of the active seeps. Sample stations were arranged in five longitudinal transects with three water depths (40, 60, and 80 m) for each transect, with one additional comparison sample obtained from within the seep field.

To be certain that the oil they measured in the sediments came from the natural seeps, Farwell worked in Reddy’s lab at WHOI using a comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatograph (GC×GC), that allowed them to identify specific compounds in the oil, which can differ depending on where the oil originates.

“The instrument reveals distinct biomarkers or chemical fossils — like bones for an archeologist — present in the oil. These fossils were a perfect match for the oil from the reservoir, the oil collected leaking into the ocean bottom, oil on the sea surface, and oil back in the sediment. We could say with confidence that the oil we found in the sediments was genetically connected to the oil reservoir and not from an accidental spill or runoff from land.”

The oil that remained in the sediments represents what was not removed by “weathering” — dissolving into the water, evaporating into the air, or being degraded by microbes. Next steps for this research team involve investigating why microbes consume most, but not all, of the compounds in the oil.

“Nature does an amazing job acting on this oil but somehow the microbes stopped eating, leaving a small fraction of the compounds in the sediments,” said Reddy. “Why this happens is still a mystery, but we are getting closer.”

###

Support for this research came from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Seaver Institute.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans’ role in the changing global environment.

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David Ball

The next thing you know, ol’ Jed’s a millionaire, ….

H.R.

Seems to me we should “drill there (Santa Barbara), drill now.”
Kills two birds with one stone, eh? We’d get domestic oil and clean up a stretch of west coast shoreline. Won’t happen, though. It makes too much sense. Can’t have any of that now, can we?

Myron Mesecke

Would allowing more west coast drilling reduce the underground pressures that force this oil to seep out? Would it actually be better for the local marine environment to have offshore oil drilling there? The drilling rigs also make great artificial reefs. Wouldn’t it be ironic for some California greenies to suggest getting the oil out in order to stop the natural oil spills?

Kazinski

You might fix your headline, its not “equivalent” to 8 – 80 Exxon Valdez spills because it was deposited over tens of thousands of years. So the deposits might be equivalent, but the seeps are not. That said one of the joys of Coal Tar beach north of UCSB was always getting out the mineral oil and cleaning the tar splotches off when you got home.
REPLY: It is not “my” headline, but in fact the one that came with it from the press release. Click on the word “EurekAlert” to see the original. The same statement is also in the body of the PR as “It estimates the amount of oil in the sediments down current from the seeps to be the equivalent of approximately 8-80 Exxon Valdez oil spills.” – Anthony

I am surprised that this is regarded as news, as it has been well-known (but hushed up by MSM) for many decades that natural oil seeps release far more oil into the oceans than any oil tanker spill.
I attended a seminar on this as a young chemical engineer in 1978. It was old news at the time.

blcjr

H.R. (08:09:57) :
You beat me to it. If nature is going to be dumping all this oil into the ocean on its own, why not collect it and use it for domestic petroleum supply? Or, if the AGW crowd cannot abide that, how about putting it into the strategic petroleum reserve?

Mike Bryant

Well, I can’t believe that all that nasty stuff is seeping into California’s water. There really is only one solution. These areas MUST be sealed off. Billy Mays could probably handle the problem with SuperPutty… (j/k)

Craig Fram Belvidere

And???
Oil is a naturally occuring substance. It has always moved from the ground to the water and some major oil field discoveries were made by following an oil sheen on water, for instance the fields around Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela.
SInce oil is naturally occurring, continually occurring and contains carbon there are microbes that have evolved to eat it. They clean up after us and after natural processes. But since oil rigs are ugly and oil companies are evil, there are good potential oil resources that wll not be tapped in our life times.

JohnB

The healine says that the seeps “release” the equivalent of 8-80 Exxon Valdez oil spills. But, over what period of time? Daily?
The article seems not to address “releases,” but rather what the sediment “contains.” So, if the period of time is eons, it seems like a non-story trying to get traction with an inflamatory headline.

crosspatch

There are even larger seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. In the early 1900’s the beaches were covered with tar. Offshore drilling has reduced the seepage somewhat. New drilling off the coast would further reduce seepage and result in a cleaner environment.
There are even seeps on land in that area. In fact, in very hot days you can sometimes find oil running down the ditch along the side of the road. There is much more natural seepage than human caused spillage. Coal Oil Point leaks more oil in one month than spilled from human operations over the entire decade of the 1990’s.

CodeTech

Nah, can’t drill and get this oil, otherwise someone will just get the oil eating microbes declared as an endangered species. After all, only human interference can possibly be bad, right? Think of the poor microbes!

Don’t kid yourself, as long as oil has been in the Earth’s crust (millions of years?) there have been oil seeps. It’s as natural as a mother breast feeding her child.
(If the oil has been seeping for millions of years how come it never runs out? Could it be that oil isn’t a product of squashed plants and algae?)
The oil industry has made amazing technological advances in recent years in off shore drilling techniques.
Believe it or not environmental groups have encouraged drilling off Santa Barbara.
Why?
To reduce the amount of oil going into the environment by reducing the pressure in the faults where the oil seeps.
Talk about a WIN/WIN situation — More domestic oil for America, less oil in the marine environoment, and, yes, more tax revenue for cash strapped coastal states and the federal government, and jobs, too. Don’t forget those jobs in today’s economy.
Off shore oil drilling — Good for America — Good for the Environment.
That’s a winning proposition!

Eric

JohnB: The article says, “There is an oil spill everyday at Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara, California, where 20-25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years.”

John W.

JohnB (08:32:52) :
The healine says that the seeps “release” the equivalent of 8-80 Exxon Valdez oil spills. But, over what period of time? Daily?

From the article:
“…where 20-25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years.”

Kojiro Vance

The answer to whether drilling would stop the oil seeps is a “maybe”. Depends on whether there are commercial quantities of oil in the formations.
We had the same problem in the Gulf of Mexico until near shore drilling eliminated. I remember as a kid trying to swim on the beaches near Freeport, TX. Naturally occuring oil balls would wash on shore. After drilling we don’t have that problem.
In the early years of oil exploration, drillers would look for naturally occuring seeps and then drill behind them.

J.Hansford

JohnB…. I don’t think you read it properly…. It says that it has been leaking about 20 to 25 tons of oil every DAY for hundreds of thousands of years.
That’s a lot of oil….

Mike Bryant

“The article seems not to address “releases,” but rather what the sediment “contains.” So, if the period of time is eons, it seems like a non-story trying to get traction with an inflamatory headline.”
When oil is seeping out onto our beaches or exists in the sediments, I would not call that a “non-story”. Newspaper people always write attention-grabbing headlines. In the body of the article:
“It, (the study) estimates the amount of oil in the sediments down current from the seeps to be the equivalent of approximately 8-80 Exxon Valdez oil spills.”
So that is the amount of oil that exists “in the sediments” currently. That amount does NOT include all the oil that has seeped in the past or that is currently seeping out.

crosspatch

Because of drilling restrictions, the oil industry DOES actually attempt to recover oil from some of the more active seeps. They have structures they place on the sea floor over active seeps that are sort of like an inverted funnel that collect the oil and gas. They don’t collect as much oil as a well would, though.
The parents of a friend of mine grew up in Santa Barbara in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They said the beaches there were constantly covered with oil and the sea air smelled like kerosene. Once drilling started off the coast, the amount of beach oiling reduced considerably to the point where you could actually walk barefoot on the sand. Before that, nobody walked barefoot and the beach, to hear them tell it. Their mother would make them get the oil off their skin with turpentine before they went in the house whenever they got home from the beach and it would ruin a pair of shoes.
With modern drilling techniques such as directional drilling, they wouldn’t need as many rigs as in the past when wells serviced by the current platforms were drilled. One platform could service many wells drilled in different directions. Allowing new drilling might result in more oil from FEWER platforms and less environmental damage.
But I wonder if we could also extract more oil offshore from land-based wells using directional drilling technology.

Jeff in Seattle

The article says 20 to 25 tons of oil a day,, The 55 gallon drum of oil (not crude oil of course) I just purchased weighs 440 pounds that is ~4.5 drums per ton,, thats ~90 to ~114 drums a day, which if my math is right that would be would be ~4950 to ~6270 gallons (US) per day. the weight my be off a little since I do not know how much the drum weighs empty, but I can pick it up by myself with out a problem. Not sure if a barrel of crude oil is 55 or 50 gallons. Just my observation.

John Galt

Isn’t some of the oil consumed by bacteria?
REPLY: Yes, see this this from the same researchers. – Anthony
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080930135303.htm

D. King

With our current budget crises here in California, I don’t
think we have the money to clean up this huge oil
problem! Besides, what could we possibly do with
all that oil? Does anyone know what our biggest import
is in California?………Stupid!

Clark

Yes, but oil from the sea floor is NATURAL, why oil from a tanker or pipeline is artificial and tainted by human sin.

dhogaza

“…where 20-25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years.”

Compared to about 38,000 tons spilled by the Exxon Valdez, or about 0.07% as much per day.
(using 10.8 million gallons @ 7 lbs/gallon)
REPLY: Its the UCSB/Woods hole numbers from their own PR, go complain to them. – Anthony

Jason

Anthony, a new bit of news you may want to cover:
http://deepseanews.com/2009/05/deep-ocean-conveyor-belt-reconsidered/
REPLY: Done, thanks – A

Dodgy Geezer

Do you think Greenpeace could collect enough money from street corner collections and ‘save the whale’ sales to fund the building of an environment de-oiling device? I envisage something like a large platform (painted green, of course) with a probing device which could reach down into Gia’s sediments and gently suck up this awful puss….
It would cost a lot of money and use state-of-the-art technology to capture the pollutant and ship it off to a refinery treatment works, where it will purified, and then shipped out to everyday motorists travelling communities, to be eventually recycled into the CO2 plant food and clear, clear water that it came from….

JohnH

What surprises me is that the study was conducted at all. Very politically incorrect. Was there an ulterior motive? Will Arnold use this study to press his request that the legislature allow offshore drilling?

John, all of the oil is rendered down by bacteria as is any carbohydrate.

Saying that as happened with the discovery of oil in the first place (natural seeps) is this area one of those banned for drilling in the US?

Mike Bryant

“dhogaza (09:18:58) :
“…where 20-25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years.” ”
Wow… that’s about an Exxon Valdez every five years for the last several thousand years and continuing!!!
It’s funny then that:
“It, (the study) estimates the amount of oil in the sediments down current from the seeps to be the equivalent of approximately 8-80 Exxon Valdez oil spills.”
Since only abot 8-80 Exxon Valdez oil spills remains in the sediment, that means that alot of the oil is missing. The bacteria have been very busy and it appears that dilution really IS the solution to this pollution, I mean, natural seepage.

hareynolds

A word from the oilpatch:
Seawater has a specific gravity of ~1.03.
Crude oil density (that is, specific gravity) is measured on the “API Gravity” scale.
API Gravity of 10 = 1.0 Specific Gravity (fresh water)
Api Gravity 10.3 (therefore) = 1.03 Specific Gravity (sea water)
Since most of these “seeps” SINK in seawater, they are <10.3 API Gravity, which is HEAVY OIL, actually officially “bitumen”, i.e. the skinny cousin of TAR.
Fact 1: Heavy (low gravity) oil is NOT nearly as valuable as the lighter oils (e.g Bonny Light, WTI, etc). Just ask Hugo Chavez what he’s getting for his average barrel; it’s typically about 70% of the “[light] oil price” you read in the paper.
Fact 2: It IS possible to drill for bitumen, as Shell Canada is doing in the Athabasca tar sands in Northern Alberta, but it iscomplex and VERY expensive. Breakeven off CA would likely be $50-60 per barrel WTI, as a guess. IF you were even allowed to get a permit in the first place. Frankly, no oil company would bother to ask due to what’s politely called “sovereign risk”, which is to say that CA is the Land of Fruits and Nuts.
Fact 3: Various “Capping” schemes (involving large steel caps over the seeps, in which seeps could be collected and pumped to shore) have been proposed over the years, but frankly NOTHING substantial ever gets built in CA anymore, so that’s a dead issue.
In this case, the recent advent of reliable, subsea multiphase pumps would actually now make this a practical project (albeit a GOVERNMENT project, because private capital won’t touch it). In any case, the energy derived from such a project would likely be HALF as expensive (say, equivalent ot $80 per barrel light crude) and infinitely more reliable than wind or solar as (a) heavy oil is still loaded with calories! and (b) you can still burn heavy oil products on a windless night, for example.

Kojiro Vance (08:49:39) :
“The answer to whether drilling would stop the oil seeps is a “maybe”. Depends on whether there are commercial quantities of oil in the formations. ”
There has been commercial quantities of oil off Santa Barbara for 40 years at least. After the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill a moratorium was soon imposed, so these wells have been continuously pumping oil for 40 years and still haven’t depleted.
(Wonder why?)
(Now, there has been some fudging because these platforms originally had one or two wellheads each, but with advanced technology, as a previous commenter pointed out, these platforms, now, have multiple wells. One platform has over 50 wells connected to it, and all have multiple wellheads.
Oil companies don’t invest unless they think oil will be produced.
Conceivably (no one knows), with full exploration & production California could be a net oil exporter.
The luddites, and that’s what many if not most of the AGW activists are, make no mistake about that, don’t want to see American oil production increased.
But for the rest of us, if the environment is improved and the economy is stimulated — that’s a good thing.

Peter Plail

What’s up with this research – it isn’t predicting the end of the world or requiring massive investment in a solution?
Maybe it’s just that they are the good, old-fashioned sorts of scientists!

http://geology.com/nasa/oil-seeps
shows the Gulf of Mexico.
JF

Kazinski

About 25 years ago, a evil oil company deployed a large underwater tent like contraption over one of the oil seeps off of Isla Vista in order to capture some oil and mostly natural gas that was bubbling up from one of the seeps. As I recall they negotiated a deal for some pollution trade offs with the state to make it feasible.
I don’t know if it’s still in operation or not. There was a study done in the the 80’s that determined based on air samples that 86% of the non-methane hydrocarbons pollution over the Santa Barbara Channel was from the seeps and not from human sources.
http://www.mms.gov/omm/Pacific/enviro/seeps-coal-oil-pt.pdf

hareynolds

Jeff in Seattle (09:06:03) said :
The article says 20 to 25 tons of oil a day,, The 55 gallon drum of oil (not crude oil of course) I just purchased weighs 440 pounds that is ~4.5 drums per ton,, thats ~90 to ~114 drums a day, which if my math is right that would be would be ~4950 to ~6270 gallons (US) per day. the weight my be off a little since I do not know how much the drum weighs empty, but I can pick it up by myself with out a problem. Not sure if a barrel of crude oil is 55 or 50 gallons. Just my observation.
UNLESS Seattle uses a different barrel than the American Petroleum Institute (I wouldn’t put it past y’all to have your own “avoir du cooler than you” system; see Frugal Seattle in last weeks NY Times Magazine), an API Barrel is 42 barrels.
Assume that the SG of this oil is just slightly greater than 1.03 (sea water).
A pint’s a pound the world around (OK too much time in Brit locals, I confess)
So 1 gallon fresh water is ~8 pounds. 8 * 1.03 = ~8.25 lbs minimum.
42 gallons * 8.25 ppg = 346.5 lbs minimum
There you have it, close enough for government work.

Brian in Alaska

A barrel of crude is 42 gallons. I just watched a big grizzly walk right by our ugly oil facility a few minutes ago. But, that’s nature for you.

Dave Middleton

One of the TV AGW “nightmare” programs (it might have been one of Brokaw’s) featured a marine biologist off the coat of Santa Barbara (IIRC) bemoaning the bubbles of methane that global warming was releasing from the sea floor…It was a natural gas seep on the sea floor that the bubbles were coming from.
Gas seeps are all over the place in the Gulf of Mexico…We have to avoid them when positioning drilling rigs and platforms. In the deepwater, we have to avoid them because little chemosynthetic critters like to live around them.
Offshore California is also rife with gas seeps…
http://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/research/projects/oilandgasseep.html

Adam from Kansas

Can’t fix this problem if this has been going on well before people even started drilling for oil.
I like the Billy Mays reference, seal them with MightyPutty unless the increased pressure pops the seal off or it finds a new place to seep O.o

AnonyMoose

Many oil deposits have been found by tracing the source of seeps. Pumping oil out of oil fields reduces the pressure and does reduce the amount seeping out from the field.
One of the more famous seeps, the La Brea Tar Pits, also is associated with an oil field.

A little History.
Before there were movies and Hollywood starlets (okay they both got up and running about the same time), there was oil in California. The pioneers noted land based oil seeps with the first coverd wagons.
See a map of both on shore and off shore oil & gas seeps.
http://geomaps.wr.usgs.gov/seeps/where.html
In fact a major component of early 20th century California’s wealth and economic power came from the burgeoning oil industry.
New wealth was created.
There is a reason why classic songs pass the test of time: They still make men’s skin tingle — and get the girls to dance.
Oil can do the same for California — it’s a classic that never goes out of style.

AnonyMoose
Johnny Honda

Do you remember the Shell oil rig “scandal”? The Europeans beneath you for sure.
Shell wanted to sink a small oil platform into the Northsea. Result was a MASSIVE protest of Greenpeace against that. Shell and others said, this amount of oil (there were a few tons of oil left in the platform) spills into the sea naturally within one hour (or so).
Did anyone listen? No! Shell was boycotted in Europe, everone said “To Hell with Shell” and stupid things like that.

Myron Mesecke

Maybe instead of Billy Mays and MightyPutty we need the Shamwow guy to soak up the oil.

dhogaza

Its the UCSB/Woods hole numbers from their own PR, go complain to them. – Anthony

My post contained nothing other than arithmetic, no complaint.

Jack Simmons

Kazinski (08:19:43) :

You might fix your headline, its not “equivalent” to 8 – 80 Exxon Valdez spills because it was deposited over tens of thousands of years. So the deposits might be equivalent, but the seeps are not. That said one of the joys of Coal Tar beach north of UCSB was always getting out the mineral oil and cleaning the tar splotches off when you got home.

Exxon Valdez dumped 10.8 million gallons of oil, equivalent to 350,000 barrels of oil. There are 7 barrels per ton, so approximately 50,000 tons spilled by Valdez.
These seeps are putting out 25 tons per day, so you would get the equivalent of a Valdez every 2,000 days.
See http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_barrels_of_oil_from_one_ton_of_oil
and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill

WUWT tumbled down another windmill!. It is good to know that also good oil will never end as long as nature processes organics.

Michael D Smith

8 to 80 seems low to me. Here are where the fun facts lead:
Exxon Valdez released 10.8 million gallons
Seeps: 20-25 tons per day (using 20)
California crude density: .915
Seeps kg/day = 18144kg = 19830 liters/day = 5238 gallons/day
Days to 1 Exxon Valdez 10800000/5238 = 2062 days or 5.65 years.
If it’s been doing that for the last “several hundred thousand years”, I’ll take it that means at least 300,000.
300,000 / 5.65years = at least 53,097 Exxon Valdez, or 573 billion gallons. So the other (at least) 53,017 Valdez’ worth of oil must have disappeared or floated somewhere else. This is a cube 1.3km on a side. This is enough to last the USA 1.8 years at current rates of consumption. If you take the area of the USA, we use enough oil each year to coat the surface of the country in about .133mm of oil, or about 1/200th of an inch (.005″).
Somehow I think all of those plants and trees on my little plot can handle .005″ thickness spread over a year. On the other hand, this is also equivalent to one square foot of the acre, 18.15 feet high of oil that is burned every year, or about 0.6″x12″x12″ per day per acre…

Tim J

Just a thought to throw in the discussion:
There is the theory that oil and gas is abiotic (i.e. produced naturally beneath the earth’s crust). When the earth broke up the oil found its way in large quantities to the surface along the faults that were created where we find our oil fields today. Russian scientist have been researching this for a long time and there is the thought that they have mastered the technology to tap in on the gas which they appear to have in abundance.
Also the find of hydrocarbons on Titan tends to lend support to this theory.

Jack Simmons

Anaconda (08:39:16) :

(If the oil has been seeping for millions of years how come it never runs out? Could it be that oil isn’t a product of squashed plants and algae?)

Ah, many have wondered about that very question.
In his book “The Scientist As Rebel”, Freeman Dyson dedicated a chapter of this book to one rebel, Thomas Gold. Thomas Gold, to quote Freeeman,

advocates a theory that natural gas and oil come from reservoirs deep in the earth and are relics of the material out of which the earth condensed. The biological molecules found in oil show that the oil is contaminated by living creatures, not that the oil was produced by living creatures. This theory, like his theories of hearing and of polar flip, contradicts the entrenched dogma of the experts. Once again, Gold is regarded as an intruder ignorant of the field that he is invading. In fact, Gold is an intruder but he is not ignorant. He knows the details of the geology and chemistry of natural gas and oil. His arguments supporting his theory are based on a wealth of factual information. Perhaps it will once again take us forty years to decide whether the theory is right.

Freeman ended this chapter with a postscript, 2006:

Thomas Gold died in June 2004. Shortly before he died, an experiment was done at the Carnegie Institution of Washington Geophysical Laboratory to test his theory that natural gas is generated deep in the earth’s mantle. The experiment, carried out with tiny quantities of mantle materials exposed to high temperature and pressure in a diamond anvil cell, demonstrated abundant production of methane. The authors sent a message to Gold to tell him that his theory had been confirmed, only to learn he had died three days earlier.

We didn’t have to wait 40 years.

Aylamp

That’s why exploration geologists have such a hard time finding oil. Most of it has leaked out of the reservoirs.
Gas seeps are everywhere too. Shallow gas pockets and gas pock marks in the North Sea provide ample evidence.