Matthew R. Simmons, an energy investment banker who died on Aug. 8 at age 67, was not the father of the "peak oil" theory. He was simply its loudest evangelist.
The notion that the earth's stores of crude were not boundless had been around since the 1950s. It took a 2003 trip to Saudi Arabia for Simmons, who ran a boutique investment bank out of Houston, to become a convert. After touring the kingdom's oil facilities as a guest of Saudi Aramco, Simmons returned home and began poring over hundreds of technical papers trying to divine how much crude lay beneath the sands. His conclusion was spelled out in the title of his 2005 book, Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy.
The book catapulted Simmons into the limelight. A New York Times Magazine article and several documentaries followed, allowing Simmons' views to reach the ears of policymakers around the world. "In the history of the petroleum era, Matt Simmons will be remembered for calling attention to 'peak oil,'" said T. Boone Pickens, chairman of BP Capital, in an e-mailed statement. "You had to admire his advocacy and his ability to focus on the need to better prepare for a new energy future."
In Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, writer Peter Maass described Simmons as "a card-carrying multimillionaire member of the global oil nomenklatura." A graduate of Harvard Business School, Simmons founded Simmons & Co. International in 1974 and spent the next three decades advising oil companies on deals, including Transocean's (RIG) roughly $20 billion merger with GlobalSantaFe in 2007. He also counseled George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign. Simmons retired as chairman emeritus from Simmons & Co. this June so he could devote himself to the Ocean Energy Institute, a Rockland (Me.) think tank and venture capital fund he set up in 2007 to find ways to harness the energy of the seas.
Simmons was never afraid to be contrarian. In July 2008, just days after oil hit a record $147.27 a barrel, Simmons said crude was more likely to climb to $200 than drop to $50 in the next six months. He was wrong. By the close of 2008, it was trading at $44.60 and hasn't returned to triple digits since.
More recently, Simmons courted controversy with his views on what BP should do to stanch its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In a June 15 interview with Bloomberg Television, he said the best option would be to detonate a small nuclear bomb undersea to kill the well. The idea raised eyebrows, but to those who knew him it was vintage Simmons. Says Bobby Tudor, co-founder of the investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt and a neighbor of Simmons in Houston's Museum District: "Matt was very iconoclastic, very outspoken, and never afraid to take a position."
Salt Lake City, one of six children
Authored Twilight in the Desert
His ideas spurred the quest for alternative energy