Does the Gulf of Mexico Hold as Much Oil as Saudi Arabia?

Mexico’s giant Cantarell oil field, in the Gulf of Mexico off the Yucatan, was supposedly discovered in 1976 after a fisherman named Cantarell reported an oil seep in the Campeche Bay.  Last week, Mexico announced finding another giant oil field off Veracruz, the Noxal, estimated to hold more than 10 billion barrels of oil.

Exploration yielded surprising results. It turned out that Mexico’s richest oil field complex was created 65 million years ago, when the huge Chicxulub meteor impacted the Earth at the end of the Mesozoic Era.  Scientists now believe that the Chicxulub meteor impact was the catastrophe the killed the dinosaurs, as well as the cause for creating the Cantrell oil field.

The impact crater is massive, estimated to be 100 to 150 miles (160 to 240 kilometers) wide.  The seismic shock of the meteor fractured the bedrock below the Gulf and set off a series of tsunami activity that caused a huge section of land to break off and fall back into the crater under water. 

Proponents of the abiotic, deep-earth theory of the origin of oil point argue that the deep fracturing of the basement bedrock at Cantarell caused by the meteor’s impact was responsible for allowing oil formed in the Earth’s mantle to seep into the sedimentary rock that settled in the huge underwater crater.  Geologists have documented that the bedrock underlying the crater shows “melt rock veinlets pointing to large megablock structures as well as a long thermal and fluid transport” as part of the post-impact history. In other words, the bedrock at Cantarell did suffer sufficiently severe fracturing to open the bedrock to flows of liquids and gases from the deep earth below. 

An important, but neglected, study of the bedrock underlying the Saudi oil fields provided strong evidence that the oil fields resulted from fractures and faults in the basement rock, not from a disproportionately large number of dinosaurs having died for some reason or another uniquely on the Arabian Peninsula.   The study published in 1992 by geologist H.S. Edgell  argued that the Saudi oil fields, including the giant field at Ghawar, were “produced by extensional block faulting in the crystalline Precambrian basement along the predominantly N-S Arabian Trend which constitutes the ‘old grain’ of Arabia.”  

In other words, according to the abiotic, deep earth theory of oil’s origin, we do not have to assume that all the dinosaurs herded like Elephants to Saudi Arabia at the end of the Mesozoic Era, where they died in a giant heap that produced oil.  Bedrock cracks, whether or not due to meteor impacts, can serve to open the above sedimentary layers to trap oil deposits seeping upward.

Until the 1960s, geologists considered collisions of extraterrestrial objects with the Earth as interesting, but not necessarily important.  Since Cantarell was discovered, geologists have come to realize that the intense shock waves generated in meteor impact events have significantly shaped Earth’s surface, distributed its crust, and fractured its bedrock.  Over 150 individual geological structures, many masked over by subsequent sedimentary deposits, have been identified as important, ranging from circular impact bowls measuring from only a few kilometers in diameter to as much as 200 kilometers (approximately 125 miles) in diameter.  Moreover, Cantarell has stimulated interest in meteor impact structures as potential locations to explore in order to find oil producing sites. 

In recent years, we have only begun exploring the Gulf of Mexico for oil.  So far the results are impressive.  Instead of imploring Congress to examine the oil producing potential of wood chips and switch grass, President Bush may be better advised to press ahead to extend oil exploration into the Gulf of Mexico to the limits current technology will permit.

Wouldn’t the Bush administration and other “peak oil” advocates be surprised to find that a resource as close as the Gulf of Mexico might just rival the 260 billion barrels of oil reserves Saudi Arabia currently claims?