The death of Matt Simmons is a great loss

Posted on August 10, 2010


Yesterday afternoon I received a message from Matt Simmons’ assistant Laura Russell that I found difficult to believe – it read that Matt had died suddenly. A few hours later the news had spread over the entire world (e.g. see an article in the Washington Post). It is with great sorrow that I now write these words.

In the autumn of 2001 I visited Colin Campbell in Ballydehob in Ireland. During the visit we discussed the possibility of organizing an international workshop on Peak Oil in Uppsala during the spring of 2002. I remember that I said that we needed speakers from the Middle East, Russia and the USA if we were to call the conference “international”. From the USA we thought of Matt Simmons. Matt had just studied future conventional natural gas production in the USA and was of the view that the conventional gas production had reached its peak. He was also very concerned about the impending peak in world oil production. We contacted Matt and he agreed to attend.

Our workshop was held during a Thursday and Friday at the end of May in 2002. I remember that Matt was feeling stressed because that Saturday his daughter was to receive her high school diploma. Matt gave his presentation on Thursday and on Friday morning he flew back to Houston. We had managed to interest Bruce Stanley of AP, Associated Press of London, in attending. He came to Uppsala and wrote about our workshop. When Matt awoke on Saturday morning in Houston he could read on the first page of his local newspaper that he had been and spoken in Uppsala. It was in that article that the expression “Peak Oil” was used for the first time in the international press (read article):

”The dispute centers on the precise timing of what is variously described as “peak oil” or “the big rollover” — the predicted date when existing oil production, together with new discoveries of crude, can no longer replenish the world’s reserves as quickly as consuming countries are depleting them.”

The thing that made Matt’s involvement especially interesting was that in 2000 he had been an advisor on energy to George W. Bush during his presidential campaign. Matt’s lecture in Uppsala became the beginning of a deep engagement with Peak Oil.

Since the first Peak Oil conference it was a given to invite Matt Simmons to all those that followed. Together with Colin Campbell his presence was one of the main attractions.

In 2005 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences established an energy committee and their first project was to research oil depletion, i.e. whether “Peak Oil” was close at hand. I was given the task of organizing a symposium on “Global Oil Reserves” in Uppsala and they wanted me to invite a number of important speakers.

It was obvious that I should invite Matt to this important meeting and, since he also thought it important, he took a plane from Houston and came to the meeting on 23 May, i.e. three years after our first Peak Oil conference in Uppsala. I know that the discussions that the energy committee had with Matt had a significant impact on their final report, ”Statement on Oil”.

During the years since our first meeting we met in person about 10 times but through email and over the phone Matt was always close at hand when I needed his help. We will miss him greatly. Naturally, my thoughts go to his wife Ellen who used to accompany him on his trips. Normally they had time for a dinner or some other social activity. I hope that Ellen will also be with us in future when we ASPO folk meet.

Matt Simmons’ engagement with Peak Oil will continue via innumerable presentations on, for example, YouTube and through his writings. His book on oil production in Saudi Arabia, “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy” is already a classic that has been translated into several languages.

Thank you Matt for all you did – we needed you also in our future.

Posted in: Uncategorized