Passing of a Pioneer

Jim Brown
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Matthew Simmons, founder of investment banking firm Simmons and Co, died over the weekend from a heart attack.

Simmons was a staunch supporter and proponent of the Peak Oil movement. He was an energy advisor to president Bush and an advocate for alternative energy. He had just founded the Ocean Energy Institute, a think tank and venture capital fund to promote offshore wind energy and development.

Simmons wrote the book "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy" which raised concerns about the shrinking Saudi reserves and their impact on future production. Simmons spent several years researching the data behind Saudi Arabia's claim that reserves today were the same as they were 40 years ago despite having produced at 10 million barrels per day for most of that 40-years. He provided documentation of increasing water cuts, increasing water floods and the shrinking deposits at each of Saudi's largest fields. It was the best researched and documented book I have ever read. It had so much documentation it was a slow read but worth the effort.

I first met Matt at the ASPO meeting in Denver several years ago and have spoken with him several times since that first meeting. He was an avid supporter of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) and a frequent speaker.

Matt had some medical problems or at least the peak oil community had speculated he had a growing problem. Officially he had a heart attack while in his hot tub and subsequently drowned. His heart was not the problem everyone was expecting. In recent months Matt had begun making wild claims that were completely unsubstantiated and had no basis in fact. Commentators on the web speculated he was suffering from dementia or early Alzheimer disease. There have been recent critiques of Matt on the web with point-by-point rebuttal for some of his claims.

The wild claims had become so dramatic that his former company, Simmons & Co, had severed ties with him. Simmons was chairman emeritus until they disowned him last month.

For instance Simmons had claimed that the BP wellhead you saw on streaming video from BP was not actually the leaking well but a hoax that BP and the government were propagating to divert attention from the real leak. He claimed the real well actually blew the riser, casing and blow out preventer completely off the well and left a gaping hole that was gushing millions of barrels of oil that would eventually fill up the gulf and kill everything in it. He claimed the real well was three miles away from the published location.

He advocated using a nuclear bomb to close the hole since there was no mechanical way of closing a leaking well without any casing or wellhead.

He constantly claimed BP would be forced to file bankruptcy and cleanup costs would be in excess of $1 trillion.

The onset of wild statements like those above that could easily be proven wrong started about six months ago and were becoming increasingly bizarre. Simmons had developed legions of loyal followers over the last ten years and the sudden reversal of character over the last few months caused some serious problems in the peak oil community. Nobody wanted to speak out against their hero but the claims continued to become more bizarre and they were hurting the credibility of the peak oil community. Just a couple weeks ago a couple of rebuttals began to appear on the web and they were very respectful but factually countered the Simmons statements.

I am sad that Matt has passed because he was truly a peak oil pioneer. However, I am sure that while the peak oil community will morn his passing they will also breathe a sigh of relief that there will be no further claims to harm the peak oil story.

Jim Brown

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