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Ode to Matthew Simmons - And the Birth of 'Houston After Oil'

In 2010 we lost a man who inspired me to pursue my dream of hosting a landmark conference titled Houston After Oil.  He was Matthew Simmons, the scion of investment banking for the oil industry and trusted alley of Dick Cheney and other energy barrens.  He was one of the handful of energy sector insiders who met with Cheney during his now infamous closed door meeting where energy policies for the Bush administration were formulated, like a mini version of the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 which created the World Bank. But Simmons was the troubled son of this privileged sanctum, and in short order became a prick in their penny loafers, lambasting business-as-usual energy policies via his many television appearances on MSNBC, the Bloomberg Report, and the like, while additionally, shocking his starched collar associates by transforming himself into a visceral advocate for the “controversial” theory of Peak Oil.  A more pronounced turncoat could be hard to fathom, but good for us, his turn was toward a future of energy conservation and renewables, and therein set the context for his endorsement of my conference idea.

I met Matthew Simmons when he was the keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) in Boston in 2006.  Actually, I should say I cornered him in the hallway after his talk, and to my surprise he wasn’t surrounded with the typical flock, like caribou reined to Santa’s sleigh, of which, of course, I was one, sans antlers.  To my additional surprise, he invited me to sit with him on the cozy couch and the two of us chatted uninterrupted for the better part of thirty minutes.  He took an immediate interest in the idea of a conference called Houston After Oil, which, as I explained, would focus on Houston in a post-oil economy, specifically because it was the epicenter of the oil industry.  This HOA conference would have a futures perspective, and, I proposed, would be formulated in concert with the University of Houston Masters Program in Studies of the Future, of which I was a graduate.  The premise was to provide a future vision for the city as a model of sustainability, because if Houston could retool itself for a post-oil economy, then so could any place.  

As a double whammy, I suggested that the Houston After Oil conference actually be a subset of the next ASPO conference, which, at the time, did not have a location, but was considering Houston.

Simmon’s enthusiasm for the idea led me to get Dr. Peter Bishop, the Director of the UH Futures Program to be in touch with Jim Baldauf, ASPO-USA Co-founder & President, and through their perseverance, the University of Houston became an co-sponsor and helped provide a home for the 2007 ASPO conference.  In a letter to me from January 2007, Jim Baldauf writes, “We are very grateful for your referral to Professor Peter Bishop of the University of Houston...We can think of nothing more fitting than UH and the City of Houston - The Energy Capital of the World - hosting international oil & gas experts to address the energy challenges of the New Millennium”.

The ASPO 2007 conference was a huge success, and although Houston After Oil didn’t quite become a mini conference in its own right, as I had originally proposed, it did become a 90 minute session in the main hall, just before the closing plenary session with T. Boone PIckens.  The session allowed me, in my opinion, to do due some of my best work as a presenter on the possible future, and it was a pleasure to share a podium with my futures mentor, Dr. Peter Bishop.  As I entered to give my talk, I passed Matthew Simmons in the doorway.  This time he was surrounded by the flock that had been absent the year earlier in Boston.  I didn’t bother to wait on line to get my chance to say anything, but if I had, it simply would have been to say Thank You for supporting my dream.  It was the last time I ever saw him.  I am truly saddened at his loss and feel the weight on my chest as I type.


Houston After Oil - Objectives and Vision

Houston After Oil - Videos

Simmons - Wikipedia

Washington Post Obituary -

NY Times Obituary-

Matthew Simmons discussing Peak Oil on The Bloomberg Report

Matthew Simmons PowerPoint Presentations Archive -

Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas - USA