The movement to shift away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy lost a champion this week when Matthew Simmons, 67, died suddenly on...

The movement to shift away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy lost a champion this week when Matthew Simmons, 67, died suddenly on Sunday.

Simmons, founder of the oil investment firm Simmons & Company, was an unlikely ally of green energy as a longtime Republican steeped in the fossil fuel business. However, he found a compelling reason to develop renewables in the looming possibility of peak oil.

Simmons made a strong case for that possibility in his 2005 book, “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy.” By meticulously going through decades’ worth of technical papers authored by Saudi geologists, he found evidence indicating that Saudi Arabia’s giant oil fields were reaching the end of their greatest productivity and that the kingdom wasn’t likely to find new sources to replace depleting ones. The revelation flew in the face of official pronouncements from Saudi Arabia, which continues to assert it has ample reserves to maintain current production through most of this century.

In 2007, Simmons stopped actively working with Simmons & Company to found the Maine-based Ocean Energy Institute. His goal for the new venture: to help create a new energy infrastructure that tapped offshore wind power to generate electricity, power for desalination of ocean water and liquid ammonia that could be used to fuel vehicles.

A 2008 article in Fortune magazine quoted Simmons as saying, “I find it ironic that here we have the biggest industry on earth, and I’m one of the few people to figure out that we have a major problem … And I did it all in my spare time. How stupid and tragic is that? I shouldn’t be one of the only folks that actually has a handful of ideas of how we can keep from blowing each other up and get through this.”

Simmons became a frequent source for the media this year after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion set off an historic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He was deeply critical of BP’s handling of the disaster, and predicted the company would soon file for bankruptcy. However, he also ended up on the receiving end of some criticism for stating that the oil spill should be stopped using a nuclear device and that the disaster would end up requiring the entire Gulf Coast to be evacuated.

It proved sadly ironic that, on the day Simmons’ death was reported, BP also announced it had finally permanently capped the leaking Gulf well.

Simmons is survived by his wife, Ellen, and their five daughters. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Ocean Energy Institute.


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