The Republican Who Dared Tell the Truth About America's Looming Oil Disaster
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"A call to arms may be wrong. We may not even know who the enemy is. And maybe the enemy is us." -- Matt Simmons
After criticizing the reckless conduct of BP in the Gulf of Mexico most of the summer, 67-year-old Matt Simmons eased into his hot tub at his home in North Haven, Maine on Aug. 8. For a short while the famous oil analyst might have pondered his grandiose plans for the world's largest $25-billion offshore wind farm. But Simmons then suffered a heart attack and drowned.
The New York Times duly observed the passing of "the noted energy banker" while Forbes called him "the crazy uncle of the oil patch." And that he was. Gadfly. Visionary. Contrarian. Educator. "Crude Cassandra." Conservative. Together with millions of Americans and Europeans, I dearly miss the life-long Republican and let me tell you why.
Not too many people in the oil patch speak honestly about the world's most powerful industry, but Simmons did. He didn’t let the money, bullshit or arrogance cloud his judgment. Or his basic reading of geology for that matter.
A Bush in his hand
Simmons, who convinced George W. Bush that America was indeed addicted to oil (and that was no easy feat), often spoke about the realities of depletion. He knew that the multinationals and state oil companies had netted most of the world's big petroleum fish 50 years ago and that the world's major oil fields, like the world's major fisheries, were all in a state of depletion. With the big, easy fish gone, industry was now chasing "junk crude" in the tar sands or the ugly, difficult and tough stuff at the bottom of the barrel. While sanity might renew ocean fishing, the depletion of cheap oil era was irreversible.
"What that means," he once said, "in the starkest possible terms, is that we are no longer going to be able to grow. It's like a human being who passes a certain age in life. Getting older does not mean the same thing as death. It means progressively diminishing capacity, a rapid decline, followed by a long tail."
Just what we need
Simmons, of course, recognized that petroleum was the industrial oxygen that built modern civilization over the last 100 years. No economy can grow its GDP without burning more oil. As a consequence he warned that the end of cheap oil would challenge every aspect of our economy as well as 100 years of lazy, oil-induced thinking. He also didn't believe that unconventional bottom-of-the-barrel replacements such as bitumen or shale gas could offset the decline.
In short, Simmons was to the oil industry what Nassim Nicholas Taleb is to economists and bankers: a breath of fresh air.
Although Canada calls itself "an energy superpower," the country's illiterate media pretty much ignored Simmons's death. And that's a huge omission.
David Hughes, a resident of Cortes Island and one the country's foremost energy analysts, says that Simmons contributions to North American life were incalculably patriotic.
"Matthew Simmons had rock star status among the peak oil crowd and it was justified," adds Hughes. "He was a straight shooter. He based everything on his analysis of the data. He woke people up. And he had a pile of integrity."
A must-stop for serious journalists
As a long time energy and business journalist I depended on Simmons a lot. He was my compass. Every week I'd visit the website of Simmons & Company, one of the world's top energy bankers in Houston, and I read over one of banker's latest presentations. They had titles like "Energy Markets in Chaos"; "Has Twilight in Energy Desert Begun!" or "What Kangaroo Court Created Our Oil and Gas Markets?"