By David R. McQueen, M.S.*

It is clear that exploration for oil is an essential activity in our modern

world and that the search for new areas of oil and gas accumulation

would be aided by a better understanding of the origin of petroleum.

Many scientists recognize the link between the origin of oil and explora-

tion. As Baker and Palmer point out:

Implicit in such (chemical) interest by both the public and the entre-

preneurs is the feeling that understanding petrogenesis must eventually

lead to more effective exploration.'

Christians, in particular, should be concerned about origins because the

study of "beginnings" always brings us back to God's history book, the

Bible, for resolution. The chemistry of oil strongly suggests that it was

formed rapidly from the remains of plant and animal matter. Oil probably

originates in sedimentary rocks which were originally deposited by

moving water. This is exactly what we would expect from the year-long

Flood of Noah's day. A very reasonable model of petrogenesis can be

based on the assumption that most of the oil and gas deposits of our

day date from the worldwide Flood of about 2500 B.C., or about 1600

years after Creation.

Basic Petroleum Geology

The classic problem faced by the petroleum industry, since its U.S.

inception by Drake in 1859, has always been how to find underground

traps of the oil by looking and experimenting at the earth's surface. This

is accomplished today by measuring folds and faults (structural geology),

studying the detailed sequence of rocks in an area (stratigraphy), and

*The Author: Mr. McQueen is Assistant Professor of Geology at the

ICR Graduate School. He earned his Master's degree in Geology from

the University of Michigan while a National Science Foundation


testing using artificial earthquake energy (seismic exploration). But how

did the oil and gas get into the trap? Most theories hold that the petro-

leum moved through porous rock, perhaps over great distances, to get

to the final trapping area. This process is termed migration. The rocks

in which the oil and gas originated, before migration, are called source

rocks.2 There is disagreement as to whether the origin of hydrocarbons

(both oil and natural gas) in the source rocks was organic or inorganic.

Some workers maintain that the source of natural gas, especially, must

be deep within the earth, where igneous activity could generate it in-

organically.3 From this deep source, it could then migrate upward into

sedimentary rocks. Proponents of the organic theory, on the other hand,

suggest that most petroleum started out as plants and animals which

were buried in the source rocks and then chemically altered into crude

oil and gas. The chemistry of oil, therefore, holds one of the keys to

understanding how petroleum originates.

An Overview of the Evidence

Petroleum is a complex mixture of organic compounds, all of which

provide clues to some aspect of its origin, burial in sediments and chemi-

cal modification. A porphyrin is one such chemical that is found in crude

oil and also in plants and blood. Interestingly, porphyrins break down

rapidly in the presence of oxygen or other oxidizing conditions.

Geologists often suggest that porphyrins are evidence for widespread

reducing environments during the deposition of petroleum source rocks.

However, this is not the best explanation for porphyrin preservation.

Rapid sedimentation would also cut off the porphyrins from oxidizing

agents and would allow their preservation as components of crude oil.

Since crude oil porphyrins are indicators of rapid sedimentation, the

details and context of these fascinating chemicals provide yet another

evidence for a worldwide, catastrophic flood.

Organic Chemistry of Porphyrins

Porphyrins are structurally similar to both chlorophyll and hemoglobin

molecules. They are classified as tetrapyrrole compounds and often

contain metals such as nickel and vanadium.' Porphyrins are broken

apart by two common geologic circumstances, oxidizing conditions and

high temperatures. As RusseII5 puts it:

Porphyrins are complex organic substances related to chlorophyll and

hemoglobin, which are destroyed by oxygen and heat.

In our present world, the areas of high sedimentation rates,6 such as

river deltas in coastal zones, have oxidizing conditions. Therefore,

uniformitarian geologists have been forced to the point of view expressed

by Levorsen7 in one of the standard petroleum geology textbooks:

The origin of petroleum is within an anaerobic and reducing environ-

ment. The presence of porphyrins in some petroleums means that

anaerobic conditions developed early in the life of such petroleums,

for chlorophyll derivatives, such as the @porphyrins, are easily and

rapidly oxidized and decomposed under aerobic conditions.

But Tissot and Welte8 have suggested another way that organic matter

containing porphyrins can be preserved:

The main reason for the higher preservation rate in the Black Sea is

probably the slower degradation of organic matter in the absence of

oxygen. Up to a certain point, a high sedimentation rate can also help

to preserve organic material.

Predictions and Tests of a Flood Geology Model Concerning Porphyrins

If a "high sedimentation rate" will preserve organic material, a catas-

trophic sedimentation rate, such as we envision for the worldvfide Flood,

would uproot, kill, and bury organic material so rapidly as to cut the

porphyrins off from oxidizing agents which would destroy them in the

ocean water. Under this model, flood geologists would predict that

porphyrins should be commonly found in sedimentary rocks. This hy-

pothesis can be tested in the published literature of petroleum geo-

chemistry. Consider the following conclusion from Tissot and Welte:9

Petroleum porphyrins ... have been identified in a sufficient number of

sediments and crude oils to establish a wide distribution of these

geochemical fossils.

As to the percentages of these chemicals found in crude oils, Tissot and

Welte report that porphyrins vary from traces to 400 ppm (.04%).'O This

is a small amount, but one which experiments would predict even under

rapid burial and alteration conditions. DiNello and Chang" report the

breakdown of a plant porphyrin in about three days under an experi-

mental procedure which reached a temperature of 210'C for about a

1-2-hour period. As they conclude:

The yield of pure pyrroporphyrin is about .5 gm from 100 gm of crude

chlorophyll extract.

In other words, they produced a .5% concentration of a type of por-

phyrin found in oil from plant material in one day. A crude oil porphyrin

can be made from chlorophyll (and presumably hemoglobin) in even less

than 12 hours. Fuhrhop and Smith found that 80% of the porphyrins in a

sealed glass tube were broken down when heated to 165'C for four

hours in the presence of vanadium tetrachloride.12 Our young earth,

Flood geology, model requires that this geochemical fossil, a porphyrin,

be produced from starter chemicals very rapidly. The research of Di-

Nello and Chang, along with Fuhrhop and Smith, shows that porphyrins

can be produced from chlorophyll in a matter of hours. This substan-

tiates at least one important aspect of this creationist model for the

origin of petroleum.


I presented this "porphyrin argument" in the pretrial testimony phase of

the 1981 Arkansas Balanced Treatment case as evidence that earth

history has been dominated by processes operating at a rate, scale and

intensity of catastrophic proportions." The Arkansas trial has prompted

many comments to the effect that creationism is not science, including

this editorial opinion from the international science journal, Nature:14

Many working scientists, finding that it (creationism) does not help in

ordering thought or designing experiments, are tempted to dismiss it

as rubbish.

Despite such propaganda, a Creation/Flood model does open many new

avenues of scientific thought. As a creationist working on the origin of

petroleum, the Flood geology model actually opened up new thoughts to

me, such as the explanation of porphyrin preservation due to catas-

trophic sedimentation rates rather than widespread reducing environ-

ments. Testable hypotheses could be formulated and potentially falsified

by organic geochemistry. Flood geology provides an explanation for the

presence of porphyrins in crude oil, superior to the standard evolutionary

geologic thinking. The creationist viewpoint actually opens up new re-

search areas and experimental designs. For example, note the structural

similarity of the crude oil porphyrin not only to chlorophyll but also

heme, a component of blood. Because of evolutionary bias, many

petroleum geologists think of crude oil forming from mostly plant

material. While more research needs to be done, it seems that crude oil

porphyrins could, just as well, be the decayed remains of blood. Is it

possible that the chemistry of petroleum could contain trace biochemical

markers of vertebrate animal and even ancient, antediluvian human


In conclusion, Flood geology provides a consistent explanation for

the presence of porphyrins in crude oil, and also opens up new research

possibilities in the strategic field of petroleum geology.


'Baker, E., E.W. and Palmer, S,E., 1978, "Geochemistry of Porphyrins," in David Dolphin, d.,

The Porphyrins (Vol. I: Structure and Synthesis, Part A): New York, Academic Press,

p. 545.

2Levorsen, A.I., 1967, Geology of Petroleum (Second Edition): San Francisco, W.H. Free-

man and Company, pp. 3-31.

3Gold, T. and Soter, S., 1980, "The deep-earth gas hypothesis:" Scientific American, v. 242,

n-6. pp. 154-161.

4Tissot, B.P. and Welte, D.H., 1984, Petroleum Formation and Occurrence, (Second Edi-

tion): Berlin, Springer-Verlag, pp. 409, 410.

5Russell, W.L., 1960, Principles of Petroleum Geology (Second Edition): New York;

McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., p. 25.

6Walker, K.R., et al., 1983, "A model for carbonate to terrigenous clastic sequences:"

Geologic Society of America Bulletin, V. 94, pp. 700-712.

7Levorsen, op cit, p. 502.

8Tissot and Welte, op cit, p. 12.

9Ibid, p. 128. 'Olbid, p. 410.

"DiNello, R.K. and Chang, C.K., 1978, "Isolation and Modification of Natural Porphyrins,"

in Dolphin, op cit, p. 328.

12Fuhrhop, J.H. and Smith, K.M. (Compilers), 1975, Laboratory Methods in PorphVrin and

Metalloporphyrin Research: Amsterdam, Elsevier, p. 42.

'3U.S. District Courts, Arkansas, 1981, Oral deposition of Dauid Ralph McQueen: Atlanta,

Bull & Associates, 194 pp.

14Nature, 1981, "Tolerance but no quarter for creationism," vol. 4, 3 Dec 1981, p. 389.