Fortune just published a colorful profile of Matt Simmons, the longtime oil-industry insider who's become perhaps the most notorious of peak-oil theorists—he snagged headlines in 2005 with his book on how Saudi Arabia's oil reserves were wildly overstated and, as a result, global production forecasts were way too optimistic. That raised eyebrows because it was coming from a Bush adviser who co-wrote the campaign's energy plan in 2000 (which, as you'll recall, leaned very heavily on oil). Anyway, Simmons is gloomier than most (there's a haze around these predictions, in part because it's hard to get good data on oil reserves in OPEC countries), but he does think world oil production is about to plateau—even as demand keeps rising—which means the recent softening of oil prices will prove only temporary. Oh, he also has opinions on the election:
"John McCain is energy illiterate," Simmons is saying. "He's just witless about this stuff. As a lifelong Republican, I'm supporting Obama." A dozen oil and gas men sitting around a conference table in Lafayette, La., chuckle nervously as he continues. "McCain says, 'Oh, we're going to wean ourselves off foreign oil in four years and build 45 nuclear plants by 2030.' He doesn't have a clue."...
McCain's midsummer move to begin campaigning on a platform of more offshore drilling has only hardened Simmons's position. "What a hypocrite," says Simmons, who supported McCain's rival Mitt Romney in the primary - no surprise given Simmons's history with the Romney family. "Here's a man who for at least the past 15 years has strenuously, I mean strenuously, opposed offshore drilling. And now it's 'drill, drill, drill.' And he doesn't have any idea that we don't have any drilling rigs. Or that we don't have any idea of exactly where to drill." (As for McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, Simmons says: "She's a very colorful person, but I don't think there's a scrap of evidence that she knows anything about energy.")
Not holding back, is he? For the record, Simmons is still in favor of offshore drilling—though he, too, doesn't expect it to have more than a small impact on gas prices a decade or two out—but now thinks that adjusting to peak oil is going to mean radical changes on the horizon: "You'll end long-distance commuting, and we have the tools to do that now with webcams. Grow food locally. Grow food in your backyard. If they're not commuting, people will have time to do that." I wouldn't go that far, though think he's right to be bearish on nukes. More interesting, perhaps, are his recent plans to erect a cutting-edge wind farm 20 miles off the Maine coast "that they say could easily power the entire state—the equivalent of five nuclear power plants."
Sort of apropos, the New York Times Magazine recently had a piece about a new wind farm off the Delaware coast that didn't make any novel points, but was a great walk-through of how these things are getting set up, how they win over skeptics and NIMBYs, overcome cost issues… (As with all wind stories, everyone says the production tax credit is absolutely crucial here—the same one that Congress is still dithering over.)