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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Oil Comes from Dinosaurs - Fact or Fiction?

By May 9, 2013

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The notion that petroleum or crude oil comes from dinosaurs is fiction. Surprised? Oil formed from the remains of marine plants and animals that lived millions of years ago, even before the dinosaurs. The tiny organisms fell to the bottom of the sea. Bacterial decomposition of the plants and animals removed most of the oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur from the matter, leaving behind a sludge made up mainly of carbon and hydrogen. As the oxygen was removed from the detritus, decomposition slowed. Over time the remains became covered by layers upon layers of sand and silt. As the depth of the sediment reached or exceeded 10,000 feet, pressure and heat changed the remaining compounds into the hydrocarbons and other organic compounds that form crude oil and natural gas.

The type of petroleum formed by the plankton layer depended largely on how much pressure and heat were applied. Low temperatures (caused by lower pressure) resulted in a thick material, such as asphalt. Higher temperatures produced a lighter petroleum. Ongoing heat could produce gas, though if the temperature exceeded 500°F, the organic matter was destroyed and neither oil nor gas was produced.


May 24, 2010 at 8:45 am
(1) Victor Ross says:

I was told as a child that oil came from the dinosaurs. I didn’t believe back then. But according to your answer, I’d like to know how the oil in the tar sands of Canada was formed, and the oil in the shale in the USA was formed. Both are above ground, or at least shallow buried….

May 24, 2010 at 10:34 am
(2) Lyle says:

Its always been hard for me to believe that such large deposits of oil located so deep below the surface of the earth could come from fossil remains, whether from dinosaurs or plankton. Looks like some scientists are also skeptical.


May 26, 2010 at 3:21 am
(3) Rob D says:

I must have been lucky in my educational journey through life, its the first time I’ve heard this silly misconception (not a perception).
Oil and gas below landlocked regions? No problema, you just ned to be aware of Plate Tectonics and other geological processes; there are fossils of sea creatures near the summit of Everest! Of course some people choose mysticism and superstition to explain these things, which is where the dinosaurs and oil connection possibly originates – i.e from those who lump all (what to them are) “scientific mysteries” together.
Regarding the Oil Without Fossils; just reading the title of the Research Paper sheds some light as to where this is going: “Methane-derived hydrocarbons produced under upper-mantle conditions”. So these guys say no need for fossils to produce oil (i.e. not a Fossil Fuel), but where does the Methane come in / from? Yes, I’ll give it a read but I’m not hopeful they have overturned established theory just yet (always remember how the media reports Science – they love the controversial and the sensational).

June 10, 2010 at 8:42 pm
(4) Mark Petersheim says:

I want to know, is there any positive effect of crude oil on the environment? Not long ago we discovered that microbes lived in extreme temperatures near thermal vents on the ocean floor, we never thought this was possible. There must be something that eats crude oil. Some other species must benefit from this bi-product of nature other than humans. Anybody out there have data to support this?

June 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm
(5) winoceros says:

Certain bacteria digest crude oil. It leaks into the oceans naturally all the time, is “eaten” or broken down, and used as energy by the bacteria.

If it’s got carbon in it, something will figure out how to eat it.

October 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm
(6) Ed Smithe says:

How is it then that we have found petroleum on Titan (Saturn’s moon), which, as far as we know, has never hosted life?

This theory is at best flawed, and at worst, invalid. Obviously there are processes at work that don’t require dinosaurs, or plankton, or other living things to create hydrocarbons.

October 10, 2011 at 5:28 pm
(7) Chrystal says:

Couldn’t it then be assumed that dinos that fell into the sea or lived in the sea became petroleum in the same manner?

November 14, 2011 at 5:26 am
(8) Andre says:

That was my thought too. That dinosaurs could also be the animals that became oil. I’m sure some oil existed before dinosaurs but if the theory is true, how could they not be a contributer at all?

July 7, 2012 at 7:42 pm
(9) Andre says:

Andre: If oil came from dinosaurs, you would find some form of it around dinosaur fossils. This has never really been the case, and even if it were present it would be in isolated pockets so tiny that recovery would be a waste of time. Diatoms and other life that fell to the ocean floor over a period of millions of years are the only things capable of leaving volumes large enough to extract.

August 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm
(10) J. Allen says:


November 8, 2012 at 1:08 am
(11) Matt says:

@ Victor Ross…Shale is a deep marine sediment. Usually formed in the abysal plains of the ocean. The only reason it is shallow on land is because of uplift and erosion through millions of years. Tar sands are shallow because its an asphaltic type of hydrocarbon formed in low temp low pressures and shallow depths. Here in Texas or Oklahoma you can find oil just hundreds of feet below the surface. Sometimes this happens due to microfractures or faults that oil can flow through. Just like water, oil flows from a high to low gradient or is forced up through high formation pressures. Scientists should not be skeptical because oil is a hydrocarbon. It has to come from either living organisms or plant life. It can’t form from anything else. Pressures and temperatures are the deciding factor of what type of oil is formed, if any at all. low temp+low pressure=asphalt….mod temp+mod press=oil…high temp+high pressure=gas, extreme pressures and temperatures will completely breakdown the hydrocarbon chains to were it is completely burned off. Methane being the last chain hydrocarbon before it becomes nothing.

February 25, 2013 at 11:04 am
(12) Ron says:

I don’t know or really care how the oil and gas got there, but what concerns me is that it is there to act as a cushion between the tectonic plates. Removing it may lead to some very violent earthquakes in coming years.

September 6, 2013 at 12:40 am
(13) Luis says:

Back in the 80′s I was told in elementary school (in MX) that oil comes form dinos. My first question was “well, how many dinosaurs we need to make an oil deposit of millions of barrels?” Obviously I never believed that hypothesis.

January 22, 2014 at 2:41 pm
(14) Jeff C says:

The theory of “fossil fuel” is just a theory.
There is no evidence of crude oil/gases being
created by decaying creatures or plants.
What do we really know? We DO know that
Titan has carbon based oil. This has been
proven. We DO know that the universe has
multitudes of gases which ARE carbon based
in the absence of plants/animals.
The theory of fossil fuel is yet another erroneous
conclusion that the lemmings blindly adhere to
with little or no objective analysis.
Jeff C

February 6, 2014 at 10:58 am
(15) The Truth says:

Oil doesn’t come from living things. All you need to do is study the Russian research since the 1950′s to figure that out. It is an artificial theory designed to apply the label of limited resource to keep the price artificially high. Dig past the fossil layer? Oil. Dig into bed rock? Oil.
Dig under the ocean floor? Oil. Dig in shale? Oil. Time to wake up to reality.

February 26, 2014 at 11:53 am
(16) DANNY V says:


February 26, 2014 at 1:49 pm
(17) danny says:

Jeff..you are absoluyley right…especially in your use of the term “lemmings”

April 7, 2014 at 9:28 am
(18) lore says:

Like other “created” things eg. grass, trees there are things uniquely “themselves”…”only God can make a tree”. To agree with another commenter here, likely the lubricant of oil on the tectonic plates was placed there like we lubricate an engine to prevent explosive friction. I have personally spoken with 2 geologists who agree that oil drilling et al has definitely changed the earths composition causing a sharp rise in earthquakes. When one looks at the process of drilling and fracking etc its easy to see why earthquakes and tsunamis are a major threat to the earths ruination from mans interference.

April 11, 2014 at 6:49 pm
(19) youip says:

The oceans died. Natural CO2. Hyper volcanic activity over long periods of time no ice caps. A greenhouse planet full of plant and reptile life. Wonderful conditions for plants. Gargantuan leaves. Apparently plant life was not enough to keep carbon in check in time despite its prosperity. This unlike our dilema was a long time coming not a span of a few centuries.

Low o2 oceans gave rise to plankton. Whole thing was as a swamp skid. layer from all the death. They sucked out what remained,blocked out life and the vast majority of the oceans and everything in it died and became acidic. Heat keeps rising, oceans evaporate faster, very acidic rain hits the land and shore lines and soil erosion/land slides/typhoons all that is common occurence. Throw into the mix still active plates a lot of land life plant and animal found its way to the oceans grave.

Oil is a wonderful carbon. All life reduces to carbon. So oil comes from death concentrate and loads of it. Its how the Earth stored its carbon excess as it and its possibly our fate to return to it for dredging it up and releasing it. It’s bittersweet but its beautifully balanced. Understood or accepted that makes no difference. It does what it does and works how it works. Powerlessness and ignorance are hard truths to swallow yet it goes on despite any preference. Tough luck.

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