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Petroleum in Space? Ain’t that a Gas! – Part 1

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Mars

Mars

With Nigerians plucking each other’s feathers politically, over control of the nation’s petroleum resources, you’d think the stuff was rare in nature.

Hardly! Scientists in the industrialized world have identified virtually inexhaustible reserves of hydrocarbon compounds. Some believe this vast, unexploited field may even harbour crude oil.

Where is this chemical trove? Look up! As jazz saxophonist Sun Ra once said, melodically, “space is the place!”

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Indeed, petroleum abounds beyond Earth—especially in the planets and moons of the outer solar system, where, in some cases, natural gas falls as rain and forms lakes and seas.

Mars (Earth’s outward neighbour) harbours methane gas in its thin atmosphere. According to one controversial theory, it could even contain deposits of crude oil, beneath its rusting surface.

The presence of petroleum on other worlds, has far-reaching ramifications. It is of enormous strategic importance, since hydrocarbons are an essential industrial resource. This may not, at present, interest Nigerian policy makers. But it will, in time: And should, even now. Because the industrial future of nations—including Nigeria—lie in space.

The economies of industrialized states are speedily expanding spaceward and, in the process, engendering cosmic competition, as technologically advanced nations jockey for territorial advantage.

Despite massive stores of petroleum in the solar system, not all potential sources are equally accessible or commercially exploitable. This has highly strategic implications, due to the burgeoning space colonization movement among advanced states.

Early arrivals on the Moon, Mars and the mineral-rich Asteroid Belt, for instance, will doubtless monopolize the most advantageous land masses—to the exclusion of late comers, like Nigeria.

Hence the current instabilities plaguing the country, plus the lethargy and indifference of intellectuals, policy makers and other affected social sectors, is foreboding. We must keep in mind, that “International relations” is rapidly assuming cosmic dimensions. “Space” has become an integral aspect of what is conventionally termed “the national interest”.

Accordingly, cosmic issues, such as “territory” and “resource” allocation, ought to be factored into Nigerian diplomacy, via the United Nations’ (UN’s) “paper satellite” vehicle—to which I will return.

Actually, it is the chemical content of the hydrocarbon molecule that renders solar system petroleum strategically important, rather than any potential export value.

By the time space colonies have been established—20 to 30 years hence—energy from oil will no longer drive Earth-based industries and transport systems or power domestic appliances.

In fact, we are currently in the throes of what I often refer to as a global “Energy Revolution”. Hydrogen technology, nuclear fusion and solar power, piped from space, will soon replace petroleum. The word petroleum comes from the Latin “petra,” meaning “rock,” and “oleum,” meaning “oil.” It applies to both crude oil and natural gas.

Crude oil, in particular, is a thick, yellow-to-black mixture of gaseous, liquid, and solid substance, while natural gas is a vapour.

Petroleum is classified as a “hydrocarbon,” because “hydrogen” and “carbon”—both very useful— are its prime ingredients. Other substances, including nitrogen and sulfur, appear in smaller quantities.

British Petroleum explains, in its Internet posting, that oil and gas are formed over a million years or longer, from organic matter (derived from once-living organisms) trapped deep underground.

Notes BP: “There’s no oxygen under the earth’s crust, so the organic matter in the sediment changed into a substance scientists call kerogen.

“And when the temperatures rose to 110° Celsius or higher, it continues, “the kerogen gradually changed into oil. Under hotter conditions it changed into natural gas”.

To be continued.


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