The high priest of “peak oil” thinks world oil output can now only decline

October 9, 2008 • Daily Email Recap

The Only Way is Down

FOR a man who believes that the world as we know it is coming to an end, as least as far as energy is concerned, Matthew Simmons is remarkably cheerful. He magnanimously excuses The Economist’s poor record of predicting the price of oil: our suggestion in 1999 that oil would remain dirt cheap was conventional wisdom at the time, he says soothingly. He also shrugs off our more recent scepticism about his belief that the world’s production of oil has peaked: he, too, hopes that “peak oil” proves to be a myth, he says. But over a 40-year career in investment banking, Mr Simmons adds, he has learnt never to rely on wishful thinking. Most of the world’s oil analysts, he believes, are far too optimistic about how long existing fields will last, the prospects for new discoveries, technology’s ability to unlock new sources and to extend the life of existing ones, and so on. He prefers to rely on data rather than daydreams. And according to the American government’s own numbers, the world’s oil output has been more-or-less flat since 2005.

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