I was born in 1965. For all intents and purposes, I am a product of a 1970s educational system that introduced the Western world to the idea that crude oil was bad and everything green was good. I was taught in school that crude oil came from decaying dinosaurs. I was also taught that once the decay stopped, our oil supply would run out.

My question is this: how is crude oil actually made? I think it is a legitimate question given the fact that my grade school teachers insisted that we would be out of oil by now. Seriously. We were taught that there would be no oil left if the world didn’t stop consuming it so quickly. Yet oil consumption has increased every year since I was a kid. We are still pumping oil out of the ground.

I am not saying that crude oil isn’t the result of decaying dinosaurs. What I’m saying is I don’t know. I am also saying that I don’t believe science truly knows, either. Why do I say that? Because the debate over crude oil’s origins continues to rage.

The Dinosaur Theory

I’m not quite sure where the dinosaur theory came from or how it originated. But it has been around for as long as I can remember. Even today, that’s the prevailing theory for crude oil’s origins. Ask the average man or woman on the street where crude oil comes from and you will hear an answer that has something to do with dinosaur bodies decaying miles below the Earth’s surface.

It apparently takes millions of years to turn dinosaurs into crude oil. Given what some scientists believe about the big bang and evolution, it seems as though we are just beginning to tap into all the potential oil underneath our feet. After all, how long ago did the dinosaurs die?

An Oil-Producing Machine

The other prevailing theory is that the Earth naturally produces oil on its own. It does so by processing carbon in the soil. I don’t pretend to understand how this process could work. I am just reporting what I have read. This particular theory suggests that Earth is an oil-producing machine that does what it does without the help of decaying dinosaurs.

If the theory is correct, the chances of humanity running out of crude oil are pretty slim. The Earth apparently makes it faster than we can dig it up. The theory would certainly explain why those who believe the dinosaur theory have to keep extending the deadline for running out of crude.

Fuel, Plastic, and More

On the one hand, the debate over crude oil’s origins seems like a waste of time. But on the other hand, knowing the truth is pretty important to how we approach the future. Simply put, we use crude oil to manufacture all sorts of things. Consider plastics. Did you know that plastics are petroleum products?

Seraphim Plastics is a Tennessee company that recycles industrial plastic waste. Every piece of plastic the company hauls back to its plant for processing started as crude oil in the ground. If we ever do run out of crude, we lose the ability to make plastics. Consider what the world would look like if that ever happened. I shudder to think about it.

At any rate, I don’t personally believe anyone knows for sure how crude oil is made. Scientists on both sides of the debate have their evidence. But none of the evidence constitutes absolute proof. Therein lies the problem.