Sometimes in life, we find out that what we thought we knew to be true actually isn’t. Saturday’s Wall Street Journal ran a review of Mario Livio’s book titled Brilliant Blunders. The book describes how theories by various brilliant scientists including Linus Pauling, Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, and even Albert Einstein were once assumed to be clearly true yet were later found to be wrong. In any field of endeavor, it is wise to look for commonly accepted “facts” that may prove to be wrong.
Elsewhere in the same issue was an article about natural gas titled “We May Live On a Natural Gas Machine.” This article stated that “there’s increasing doubt about whether all natural gas…comes from fermented fossil microbes.” The alternate theory is that at least some of the world’s natural gas has been formed by “outgassing” (the more scientific term is abiogenic deep origin).
The theory of outgassing is that carbon contained within rocks bubbles out over time as simple hydrocarbons such as methane (which is the primary component of natural gas). These hydrocarbons are formed when carbonate rock, pushed deep underground by geologic forces, gets heated and pressurized in the earth’s molten mantle. And where do carbonate rocks come from? They come from absorption of carbon dioxide. So, the theory says, the earth may be recycling carbon dioxide back into methane over time.
The point of this is the earth may contain a lot more natural gas than we think, since to date almost everyone has focused on fossil deposits. According to the article, a new paper by Vladimir Kircherov of the Royal Institute of Stockholm suggests that the outgassing theory may explain huge deposits of methane hydrates found under the ocean floor. Research on methane hydrates in the U.S. and Japan, among elsewhere, suggests that over time these deposits may become new economic sources of natural gas.
While the outcome of such research and theories such as outgassing won’t change the price of natural gas this summer, the research bears watching as we contemplate the energy future over our children’s lifetimes.
 For more detail on the theory behind abiogenic deep origin see: http://www.intechopen.com/books/hydrocarbon/abiogenic-deep-origin-of-hydrocarbons-and-oil-and-gas-deposits-formation