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Geology/if fossil fuels were never harvested

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Question
What impact if any would there have been on life on earth if man had not removed millions of gallons of oil and millions of tons of coal from the ground? I am not meaning improved air quality without all the carbon emissions. I am asking if all that petroleum in the ground could have been deleterious to lifeforms?

Answer
Len,

Interesting question.

In the first place, if the fossil fuels were never harvested,  the Industrial Revolution would not have taken place, which could have been 'deleterious' to the unprecedented progress the humans have made since!

A brief about the origin of oil would be helpful. The micro-life in sea when dies (and they die in abundance) gets preserved at the bottom of the sea, only where anoxic (oxygen free) conditions exist. They quickly get covered with fine grained sediments (mostly Shale) before their organic matter is decomposed, which later generates oil. These source rocks could be as old as 500 million years or as young as couple of million years, which are found in different parts of the earth.  

This process lasts for millions of years and with the perpetual changes of the depositional environments, different types of rocks pile up on top of each other, which include the rocks like limestone and sandstone that can serve as reservoire for oil and gas. This continuous burial of the initial rock (Shale), loaded with naturally dead organisms, took it to deeper depths where the temperature and pressure were just right to convert the organic matter into oil globules. Oil being lighter starts moving up till it reaches a so called 'Trap' where it accumulates in the life-less (contains fossils) reservoir quality rocks. These 'Traps' filled with oil and gas have existed since ages and it would have remained there for ages, had the man not extracted it!

The point I want to make is that the oil did not kill the micro-organisms in the first place. It is rather a byproduct of an already dead life. Then it gets commercially accumulated in compact rocks where the life does not exist and is only found in the form of fossils. So it has always been a life-less geological container where the oil had been stored by the Nature.

The oil proves deleterious to lifeform only when it naturally leaks out of the traps and gets spread on the ground or floats on water in sea and rivers. Or when an oil tanker or the oil rig meets an accident. And all the more by the man-made disasters, when the oil wells in Kuwait were destroyed, where billions of barrels were lost, and sea and land life got killed. And above all it was not just the loss of the people of that country but the world at large, as the oil is not a renewable source while the users are perpetually on the rise!

Hope it helps.  

Geology

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Nusrat Kamal Siddiqui (Mr)

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I am a petroleum exploration geologist with about 40+ years of diversified experience. I can answer questions on stratigraphy, log interpretation, field studies based on set of logs and core results, general geology etc. Can provide guidance for career planning in earth sciences. Can not help in questions about hard rocks, igneous petrology & mineralogy, sequence stratigraphy and seismic.

Experience

Petroleum Exploration - field geology, stratigraphy, prospect generation, interpretation of satellite imagery (visual), log interpretation.

Organizations
Retired in May, 2006 as Senior Manager Exploration from Pakistan Petroleum Limited after serving 26 years. Since then continuing in active service with petroleum exploration companies.A cumulative experience of about 40 years covers 30 years in petroleum exploration, 5 years hydrogeology experience in Libya, and about 5 years of dam geology in Pakistan.

Publications
-AAPG Bulletin (Vol.88, July, 2004); paper on Sui Main Limestone (Eocene), a prolific gas reservoir in Pakistan. -Have presented papers on diversified topics ranging from spirituality, flood control, remote sensing and off course geology in France, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, UAE, Kashmir, India and Pakistan that have been published in respective Special Proceedings. -ONGC Bulletin(India) Vol. 44, Number 2, December, 2009; Chapter 19.A & 19.B on basin architecture and stratigraphy of Pakistan, p.402-474.

Education/Credentials
BSc Honours in Geology and Master of Science in Petroleum and Structural Geology. PGD from ITC, The Netherlands.

Awards and Honors
-Remained Active Member of AAPG from 1990-2006; founding member of PAPG (a local affiliate of AAPG). -Life member of SEGMITE & AGID, and Senior Editor of SEGMITE magazine. -Member of the Board of Studies, i. Department of Petroleum & Gas Engineering (BUITMS, Quetta), and ii. Geology Department, Sindh University, Jamshoro. -Member of Stratigraphic Committee of Pakistan. -Represented Mining Journal, UK in Pakistan till 2007. -Chairman of Annual Technical Conference (ATC)& Oil Show, an SPE/PAPG annual event, in 2003. -Chairman Technical Committee (ATC, 2002).

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