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Matthew Simmons: a tribute

Matthew Simmons: a tribute thumbnail

Energy Investment banker and leading peak oil proponent Matthew Simmons died suddenly on Sunday [Aug. 8], following an apparent heart attack.

While Simmons did not come up with the idea of peak oil – geophysicist M King Hubbert first published the theory in the 1950s – he arguably did more than anyone to publicize it.

It was Simmons’ 2005 classic Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, that turned discussion of peak oil from a fringe environmental concern into something with business pages credibility.

Much of this was due to the sheer level of research behind Twilight, not to mention the fact that Simmons was a highly successful investment banker, and longterm oil industry insider who was involved in Bush’s 2000 election campaign energy plan.

Fortune magazine observed in 2008:

Matt Simmons is as perplexed as anyone that it has fallen to him to take on OPEC, Exxon, the Saudis, and all the other misguided defenders of conventional wisdom in the oil patch. Why should one investment banker with a penchant for research be required to point out what he regards as the obvious – that from here on out, oil supplies can’t meet demand, and if we don’t act soon to solve this crisis, World War III could be looming?

Why should a man who scorns most environmentalists have to argue that locally grown produce and wind power are the way of the future? Why should a lifelong Republican need to be the one to point out that his party’s new mantra – “Drill, baby, drill!” – won’t really fix anything and that his party’s presidential candidate is clueless about energy? That the spike in oil prices earlier this year wasn’t a temporary market anomaly and the recent retreat in prices is just a misleading calm before a calamitous storm? That we’re headed toward $500-a-barrel oil?

“I find it ironic that here we have the biggest industry on earth, and I’m one of the few people to figure out that we have a major problem,” he says, in his confident if not quite brash way. “And I did it all in my spare time. How stupid and tragic is that? I shouldn’t be one of the only folks that actually has a handful of ideas of how we can keep from blowing each other up and get through this.”

The above stands as a perfect epitaph. Tributes to Simmons, 67, have tended to repeat terms such as “innovative thinker” and “visionary.”

Simmons was uncompromisingly critical of British Petroleum’s handling of the Gulf oil spill and predicted the company would file for bankruptcy, and claimed cleanup costs could top $1 trillion. (Some of his more outlandish theories following the blowout have been quite rightly ridiculed, but he was one of the first to talk about the flow rate being many times higher than BP was at the time claiming.)

As a final act of irony, Simmon’s death was announced on the same day that BP announced it has successfully inserted a cement plug into the well’s casing. Further procedures remain to be completed to ensure a longer lasting solution, but it seems that the well has been killed. The oil giant’s website states:

· The MC252 well has been shut-in since July 15; there is currently no oil flowing into the Gulf.
· The pressure testing following the cementing operations indicates we have an effective cement plug in the casing which was the desired outcome.
· The DDIII relief well is currently at 17909 ft and is preparing to drill ahead 30 ft followed by another ranging run. Intersection of the MC252 well annulus is expected towards the end of the week.

I am personally saddened by the passing of Simmons, especially the timing of his death – which is being put down to entirely natural causes; he seems to have suffered a heart attack in his hot tub. I personally believe he had the grace and charm to admit to some of his erroneous statements about BP’s runaway well, and the courage to stick to his guns and demand the oil giant remains focused on the environmental disaster, which will go on for years.

Anyone who writes about peak oil owes a great debt to Matthew Simmons who, in my, opinion, produced one of the new century’s most outstanding items of investigative journalism. In order to test the Saudi’s claims of vast oil reserves, he bypassed the state’s legendary secrecy to unearth 50 years of technical papers submitted by Saudi oil geologists to the Society of Petroleum Engineers, and uncovered what he called “the biggest energy illusion ever in the world.” That’s how Simmons should be remembered – for cutting through the lies and secrecy.

Peak Generation

One Comment on "Matthew Simmons: a tribute"

  1. Plan B Economics on Thu, 12th Aug 2010 7:27 pm 

    Matt’s 2006 presentation to ASPO (video) is probably one of the best ways to understand where Matt was coming from:

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