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But "even this crude level of dating can be very useful in petroleum exploration," said Moldowan, who recently moved to Stanford from Chevron.
But lack of oleanane is a significant clue that the oil may have formed in the Jurassic or older times, before angiosperms evolved.
If the compound is present in relatively small amounts, the crude is almost certainly Cretaceous or younger.
If it contains large amounts of the organic substance, on the other hand, its pedigree most likely dates from the post-Cretaceous or Tertiary Age (65 million to 5 million years ago).
Michael Moldowan, a research professor at Stanford University.
The new dating method is described in the August 5 issue of the journal Science.