Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Passing of Matt Simmons - a personal thought

There are a very few books that sit on my desk, and those that do change over time. But since 2005 the book “Twilight in the Desert” has remained in the collection. The author of that book, Matt Simmons, passed away on Sunday and his presence will be missed.

Before he wrote the book, Matt had begun a series of lectures that were, for a while, available through a web site at the investment bank (Simmons & Co International) that he had founded. And it was through those lectures that I first heard of him. Back in 2004 he engaged in a public debate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies with Nansen Saleri, then Chief of Reservoir Management for Saudi Aramco. (Presentations sadly now removed from their files). His challenge to the continuing optimism which Saudi Arabia projected to the world was the first major challenge to their credibility.

Given his background, having served as an advisor at the beginning of President George W. Bush’s term, he was able to draw the normally secretive Saudi’s into a much more open debate about their actual reserves, and what they were doing. Four years after the debate both felt vindicated by the results, but Matt convinced a fair number of us that there was more to the story than the Saudi’s even in that unprecedentedly open discussion, were saying.

He followed up the debate by producing his book in early 2005, and though it was not a book for novices , it documented, through his study of the scientific papers, a rational basis for challenging the Saudi statements. For those with little initial understanding of the Saudi fields, it provided the knowledge that made it much easier to comprehensively study the data and draw one’s own conclusions. And it provided a firm basis on which other challenges to Saudi credibility have subsequently been built.

I first met him at the ASPO Conference in Denver in 2005, where he gave the address at the opening luncheon and later gave an interview to Stuart Staniford, published at TOD, in which he described both how he got into the oil banking business, and then how he became curious about Saudi production. Since his book had just come out it provided the basis for much of the discussion at the meeting, and Matt was gracious enough to listen to many of those of us who importuned him with questions new to us, but which he must have already heard many times.

We bumped into each other at meetings quite regularly after that. His speeches were always full of facts, delivered fast so that he could cover more ground in the allotted time, but leaving us concerned that we hadn’t caught all the nuances of is commentary to the always well-prepared Powerpoint slides. And he was always around afterwards to explain and discuss what he had said.

There were things we did not agree on, but he brought an enthusiastic interest to the topic, and a publicity to it that likely could not have been achieved without him.

There are a growing number of studies that now show that the Saudi projections of the early 1980’s will be revealed as overly optimistic within a very few more years. With the balance of supply over demand increasingly being controlled by OPEC, of which Saudi Arabia is by far the greatest player, the world needs to know, before it happens, that we have a major problem with liquid fuel supply sitting just over the horizon. It is only with that knowledge that we have the initiative to prepare to deal with it. Matt Simmons was one of the Pioneers that have led us to that understanding, and rightly deserves recognition for it.

My thoughts and prayers go to Ellen, his wife, and their five daughters.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Simmons will be missed.

    Many people forget the long years he spent raising awareness about long term oil supply issues before "Twilight in the Desert". He was talking about the issue back in the 1990s, when the world seemed to be awash in oil.

    Matt Simmons made a difference. And perhaps that is the best epitaph anyone can have.