What If He’s Right?

By James Howard Kunstler
Guest Writer for Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com 

       Just when America was celebrating the provisional end of BP’s Macondo oil blowout, and getting back to important issues like Kim Kardashian’s body-suit collection, along comes Matthew Simmons with a rather strange and alarming outcry on doings in the Gulf of Mexico that contradicts the mood of renewed festivity, as well as just about every shred of reportage from any media outlet, mainstream or otherwise.
     Matt Simmons Houston-based company has been the leading investment bank to the US oil industry for a long time, financing exploration and drilling in places like the Gulf of Mexico. Simmons, 68, recently retired from day-to-day management of the company. For much of the decade he has been what may be described as a peak oil activist. His 2005 book, Twilight in the Desert, warned the public that Saudi Arabia’s oil production had reached its limits and, more generally, that an oil-dependent world was entering a zone of serious trouble over its primary resource. He took this aggressive stance despite risking the ire of the people he did business with.
        Matt Simmons is a sober individual and a very nice man (I’ve met him twice over the years), a button-downed corporate executive who’s been around the oil business for forty years. His knowledge is deep and comprehensive.  From the beginning of the BP Macondo blowout incident in April, he’s taken the far out position that the well-bore is fatally compromised and that BP has been consistently lying about their operations to stop the flow of oil. Perhaps most radically, Simmons claims that an oil “gusher” is pouring into the Gulf some distance from the drilling site itself.
       Last week, Simmons came on Dylan Ratigan’s MSNBC financial show, but he did a longer interview over at the King World News website. (click here for Eric King’s interview with Simmons). Simmons’s current warning about the situation focuses on the gigantic “lake” of crude oil that is pooling under great pressure 4000 to 5000 feet down in the “basement” of the Gulf’s waters.  More particularly, he is concerned that a tropical storm will bring this oil up – as tropical storms and hurricanes usually do with deeper cold water – and with it clouds of methane gas that will move toward the Gulf shore and kill a lot of people. (I really don’t know the science on this and welcome any reader to correct me, but I suppose that the oil “lake” deep under the Gulf waters contains a lot of methane gas dissolved at pressure, and that as the oil rises toward the ocean’s surface, and lower pressures, the gas will bubble out of solution.)
       Simmons makes two additional points that are pretty radical: he says that several states along the Gulf ought to begin systematic evacuations in counties along the shore now. From his experience in Houston with Hurricane Rita (2005), he says a last-minute evacuation is bound to be a disaster — the highways jammed hopelessly, drivers ran out of gas, and then the gas stations ran out of gas. Based on where the nation’s collective state-of-mind is these days, I can’t imagine that any Gulf state governor or mayor will heed this warning and begin preparing an evacuation now. (The practical problems are obvious for householders but what if it really is a matter of life and death?)
        Secondly, Simmons maintains – as he has from near the beginning of the blowout – that the US military should take over operations from BP and ought to set off a “small” nuclear device down in the well-bore to fuse the rock into glass and seal the site permanently. Simmons says, based on his experience growing up in Utah near the government’s underground nuclear testing sites in neighboring Nevada, where scores of very large atomic bombs were set off for years with no measurable consequences above ground, that a small nuclear explosion down in the Macondo well is unlikely to have any effect above the undersea rock surface. I have no idea, personally if this is true.
     Matt Simmons is taking a position so “out there” that even the radical peak oil website TheOilDrum.com won’t comment on his remarks (at least not as of early Monday morning July 19). I don’t know how to evaluate Simmons’s contentions myself, except to say that I don’t believe Simmons is a nut, or that he’s lost his marbles. We also must suppose that someone in his position is able to talk with an awful lot of the best people in the oil industry.  Simmons has put his reputation on the line. A lot of bystanders and commentators are treating him as a fool.  Simmons himself is painfully aware of his lonely stance and seems, in his public appearances, to be a very regretful messenger.
       In the past twenty-four hours, BP has reported some possible leaks coming out of the seabed some distance from the well-bore. Nobody has been able to confirm yet exactly what is happening down there.  One other thing Simmons said is that BP should be barred from the media airwaves since, he says, they have lied consistently in order to cover up their criminal negligence and culpability. The company itself cannot be saved because the claims against it are much greater than the value of its assets – but the people running the company could be sent to jail, so the incentive to keep lying remains high.
       Jesse at the Jesse’s Café Américain website makes an excellent point that if Matt Simmons is correct, and it turns out that the US government has been played by BP, then remaining public trust in the competence and legitimacy of government could evaporate. This is not a happy thing to contemplate at a time when the state of the nation and its economy are so fragile. What follows could make the current political situation seem like little more than, well, than a tea party, compared to the politics-to-come.
        Readers here at Clusterfuck Nation are probably well aware of my past declarations of being allergic to conspiracy theories and crazy ideas generally. I’m not really equipped to evaluate Matt Simmons’s warnings about the exact nature of the Macondo blowout and what might happen in the months ahead. But I am confident, having met the guy and corresponded with him and read his books, that he is a straight shooter. I’m sure that he is sincere in proclaiming his extreme discomfort with the position he’s taken.  Listen and decide for yourselves. (Simmons interview with Eric King)
This article was reprinted with permission of Mr. Kunstler.  To read Mr. Kunstler’s bio click here.  Click here to go to Mr. Kunstler’s web site.
A sequel to James Howard Kunstler’s 2008 novel of post-oil America, World Made By Hand, will be published in September 2010 by The Atlantic Monthly Press.

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  1. John Bernard

    These ideas are floating around at various websites and have been put forward as very real possibilities by some academics. There is a lengthy post at Survival Spot which provides a “scientific” basis for a six month time line to disaster. There are others making the same prediction. IF they are correct in the worst case there is no sense worrying about this; just enjoy the few months left to humanity. IF true in any sense the Gulf population is in big trouble, and people within a few hundred miles are also threatened.

    I have sent my friends these reports with a dose of skepticism, but seeing your post makes me wonder if this scenario could play out. From what I have read these conditions have existed before, though not with inadvertent help from the US Government and BP, as a result of natural earth changes.

    Without doubt BP is incompetent and dishonest it is disgusting to hear their advertisements complemented by news from the Gulf in direct contradiction. Their history of accidents is abysmal. The company is circling its wagons but most likely will not survive. Its culture is one of cost avoidance to boost quarterly numbers which has resulted in long term increased cost to repair the damage. Its behavior is typical of conglomerates whose sole purpose is milk its assets and then dispose of them for whatever price is possible.

    I hope this article is wrong or overstating the case as if it is not politics will mean very little in the near future.

    • Greg

      One thing is for sure, BP is trying different ways to shape the story. There should be some sort of oversight or government involvement over BP at several levels. We need independent way to confirm they are giving an accurate account on what is going on with the Gusher. That means from spill to cleanup and bad health effects from the contamination. Thank you for your comment.


    Here is a contrary (negative) opinion of Matt Simmons from Catherine Austin Fitts who I have a lot of respect for:

    • Greg

      John Huncle,
      All information is welcome. Thank you.

  3. Tom

    This guy Simmons is not a trained geologist and has no ability to determine if the seabed and the rock structure below it can handle a nuclear blast of any size. That’s not the Utah desert down there, and if a blast went awry the situation would turn into an uncontrollable disaster. I have been hearing him blab for weeks now about this huge lake of sub-surface oil that is miles away from the damaged well site. If that oil is in fact from the damaged well bore and is seeping through the rock structure and exiting through the seabed miles away, how in the hell does he think he’s going to stop that with a nuclear blast? I used to respect Simmons for his peak oil work. I think he’s got rocks in his head with this idea. The Russians tried that nuclear trick several times on their own land and more than a few didn’t turn out too well.

    • Greg

      This is good commentary people need to hear.

      • Tom

        I think that nuclear idea is indescribably stupid and irresponsible.

        • Greg

          It sounds extreme to me too but I just don’t know enough about this kind of problem. Simmons is one of the top oil consultants in the world. Thank you for the comment.

  4. John Smith

    Although this may not be the proper forum for this type of observation – Has anyone connected the ‘engineered release’ of a significantly more effective “greenhouse gas” than the evil robber baron CO2(methane – http://www.epa.gov/methane/) with a convenient effective atmospheric lifetime which is noted in the linked EPA website (I honestly do not know what this metric means)at a time where the globe desperately wants a new and monstrous carbon tax? Of course, not to mention all of the delicious negative petroleum press which has been skillfully connected with planetary assault. According to a study by John Kessler of Texas A&M, “oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits.” (http://blog.alexanderhiggins.com/2010/06/22/bps-lies-about-methane-and-oil-plumes-exposed/) Two birds, one stone, and all the difficult labor reaching a source was completed by BP and friends. As a lowly mechanical engineer, I obviously can not comment as to the atmospheric release rate of the methane, ‘wet’ or ‘dry’, dissolved in the ocean. However, it would be painfully convenient if the release rate known by those much more connected corresponded to the typical political attention span or with the quickly forgetful, emotionally blinded general public. I honestly do not believe that I would be asking these questions if I 1) was not an engineer exposed to problems related to absorption and emission rates of fluids and 2) through no fault of my own, read various articles over the recent years regarding our sweet and lovable friend, anthropogenic global warming and related silliness such taxation of livestock based on methane emission. Just a passing thought.

    Regardless, this is a truly tragic event and we all must do what we can to make things right. I certainly hope for the sake of all the Gulf Coast states that this is an extreme and unlikely theory. On a serious note – My condolences to the families who lost loved ones to the terrible explosion. Additionally, my condolences to the communities who rely on the Gulf and all those who will be affected in the future as the full extent of this disaster is realized.

    • Greg

      John Smith,
      Good stuff sir!! Thank you.

  5. Diane Mark


    This is an interesting 2 hour informal talk by “SHR” on June 25th who is a Subject Matter Expert entitled, “SHR answers technical questions on The BP Deepwater Horizon Macondo Well Blowout and what we are facing in the Gulf.” He believes that the well has been compromised below the surface just as Matt Simmons indicates, but he gives a little different picture. I’ve listened to it twice and he mentions some valid issues. SHR isn’t a polished guy, but he knows a lot about the subject.

    🙂 Diane

    • Greg

      I don’t know how much Simmons is right about but I am quite sure he is not all wrong in what he is saying. Thank you for weighing in on this with more good information.

  6. maria rivers

    Lose trust in the goverment????? what clear thinking people are still trusting the goverment?

  7. mark

    You candidly admit ambivalence to Mr Simmons claim. Unusual for a reporter.
    Math would reveal the truth in Mr Simmons forecasts. A hurricane force wind averaging 70 mph, 200 miles in diameter by 2000 vertical ft, traveling at 15 mph would produce a volume of air of such significance to dilute harmlessly any portion of the “lake of methane” brought to the surface by a hurricane.

    Thanks for the report

    • Greg

      I just try to bring people thoughts and ideas they won’t get in the mainstream media. You make a good point about dilution. Thank you for the comment.

  8. mark

    Mr Simmons is a Texan and a banker. Follow the money. There is nothing more he’d like to see than the collapse of BP so his clients could pick up the pieces cheaply.

    • Greg

      Another good point, but with Simmons at 67 years old, I would like to think money is not the only motivating force. Thanks man.

  9. Will

    And then this story comes out:


    The oil could be suspended at a mid point waiting to be rolled to the surface.

    Interesting how a larger picture forms when one gets information from a number of sources. Thanks for being one of those sources, and a reliable one at that!

    • Greg

      Good info. Thank you.

  10. marxbites

    And NOW he’s DEAD !!!

    Was his mouth too big for govt & BP?


    • Greg

      Isn’t his death convenient? Thank you!

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