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Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy Paperback – Jun 5 2006

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (June 5 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471790184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471790181
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.1 x 23 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 780 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #360,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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Investment banker Simmons offers a detailed description of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S and our long-standing dependence upon Saudi oil. With a field-by-field assessment of its key oilfields, he highlights many discrepancies between Saudi Arabia's actual production potential and its seemingly extravagant resource claims. Parts 1 and 2 of the book offer background and context for understanding the technical discussion of Saudi oil fields and the world's energy supplies. Parts 3 and 4 contain analysis of Saudi Arabia's oil and gas industry based on the technical papers published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Simmons suggests that when Saudi Arabia and other Middle East producers can no longer meet the world's enormous demand, world leaders and energy specialists must be prepared for the consequences of increased scarcity and higher costs of oil that support our modern society. Without authentication of the Saudi's production sustainability claims, the author recommends review of this critical situation by an international forum. A thought-provoking book. Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"...this is an important book and worth reading" (The Royal Society for Asian Affairs, April 2006)

"The author...is clearly an expert in his field…I recommend anybody in the financial markets read this book." (Financial Engineering News, October 2006)

"Those who follow with their own tales of imminent economic collapse struggle to emerge from [Simmons'] shadow." (Spectator Business, October, 2008)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The late Matt Simmons had rock star status in the Peak Oil world. His book "Twilight in the Desert" is what Stephen King would read to get scared. Simmons who worked in the industry for much of his life, lays it out straight. Having worked in the oil industry myself for a number of years, "Peak Oil" is whispered dirty words that even very few of us can grasp. Buy the BOOK! Educate yourself, and do not believe for one second that some miracle will save you. I have purchased this book several times over for friends.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa1ad1870) out of 5 stars 124 reviews
234 of 250 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1c7ad08) out of 5 stars Bad news from the Society of Petroleum Engineers, via a Texas investment banker June 16 2005
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Matt Simmons has bad news about Saudi oil, very bad. Who is Matt Simmons? He's a Houston investment banker who specializes in oil. He's a member of the National Petroleum Council and the Council on Foreign Relations. Not a radical environmentalist, in other words, quite the opposite. What Simmons has done in TWILIGHT IN THE DESERT: THE COMING OIL SHOCK AND THE WORLD ECONOMY is to analyze the technical papers of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) on Saudi oil, shining a light behind the veil of secrecy that has shrouded it since OPEC stopped reporting oil production data in 1982. In short, what the SPE reports reveal is that the official Saudi claims for reserves and production capacity are vastly overstated. Further, tragically, it seems that the fields have been mismanaged, making it unlikely that all the oil will ever be recovered.

Now someone with a suspicious mind might suspect that Simmons, a banker, has an interest in leading the market to believe that oil is scarce, because that will put upward pressure on the price, and the oil companies and he, their banker, will benefit. I do have a suspicious mind, but I am convinced by Simmons's meticulous presentation of the SPE data. It is probably the single most important piece of evidence that the world is entering the Hubbert's peak for oil ("peak oil" as it is colloquially and ungrammatically known). He systematically presents the data on every single big Saudi oilfield, from the biggest of all, Ghawar, which as of 1994 still produced 63% of all Saudi oil, through Abqaiq, Safnaya, Berri, Zulaf, Marjan, Shaybah, and smaller fields.

Are there vast untapped reserves in Saudi Arabia? According to the SPE data, the answer is no. No giant fields have been discovered since 1968, despite intensive exploration. Here is a list of crisp facts about world oil, according to Simmons (p. 331):

1) Only a handful of super-giant oilfields have ever been discovered in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East -- they represent a very significant portion of all ME oil, and they are all very mature.

2) All mature giant oilfields peak and decline (production profiles showing the peaks are shown for 8 fields in Texas, Alaska, the North Sea, and Russia). Implication: sophisticated new technology will not prevent or forestall this from happening.

3) There do not seem to be many giant oilfields left to be discovered in Saudi Arabia or the ME.

4) Non-OPEC oil, excluding the FSU (former Soviet Union) seems to be peaking, or has already peaked.

The consequences of all this, needless to say, are grim. It's been increasingly clear in recent years that oil had peaked everywhere else, but there was still supposed to be a vast reserve under the Saudi sands. Apparently this was a mirage. What this means is that we have to make the development of new energy sources the top priority. Of course, in the middle to long-term, it will have to be renewable energy, and the faster we move to solar and wind power the better (See Hermann Scheer's excellent The Solar Economy).

In the transition, which is likely to be a rough ride, other less desirable alternatives are all but inevitable. Balancing available inputs (ie, plentiful coal) with toxic outputs and global warming will be a Faustian bargain. Of course now the move is well under way to mining of tar sands, shale oil, and other unconventional oil, which is more expensive and environmentally catastrophic.

Since the original 2005 review was written the CAFE -- corporate average fuel economy, the standard for fuel efficiency -- has been raised substantially, but the move away from fossil fuels is still painfully slow.

[UPDATED 6/23/13]
128 of 138 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1c7ad5c) out of 5 stars What If The Pumps Run Dry June 12 2005
By John G. Hilliard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The basis of this book is fear, not unwanted fear spread by the author, but it is the emotion you start to feel as you move through the book page by page. For good or bad the U.S. and the world have become reliant on one natural resource that is controlled by a very few countries and people. This fact alone should have most of us concerned, 60% of the oil we use each day is controlled by a bunch of countries that are primarily dictatorships surrounded by people that would sooner burn the oil in mass dumping grounds instead of selling it to us regardless of the price. We have become backed into a corner and it appears that our only response so far as been to flex our power.

What will happen if the oil fields in Saudi can not keep up with demand? What if the production facilities are almost overmatched at this point and further facilities are difficult to put in place? All of these and more questions are covered in this book. The author also talks about the populations and political situation in Saudi and the picture he presents is another difficult and concerning one at that. One can only hope that the production in Iraq gets up and running or that better technology is hurried into production.

The footnotes and documented sources detailed in the book give it the appearance of a very well documented and accurate study. The details on the production process in Saudi is worth the price of the book alone. It is a rather back handed slight at our news media that the very real issues presented in this book have not yet made it to the talking heads at 6 pm. Overall I enjoyed the book a great detail. It is well written and put together. The reader is never lost in the detail no matter how little previous knowledge the reader has about the oil business. What I found was that the good was a very fast read given that it is difficult to put it down. It is a book that we all need to read.
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1c7c168) out of 5 stars Well Written - Very Detailed Nov. 27 2005
By Jack Ridley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a well written and well researched book by Mathew Simmons, an expert on the oil business including Middle East oil supplies. The book is a bit technical and is mostly solid information on oil extraction, the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, along with a number of projections. The best comparison that I can make is with a university reference book, but not a text book: it is a well written reference book with a very short introduction of Saudi history.

The book is a little over 400 pages in medium font, and has many maps showing the locations of the oil, schematics showing how the crude oil is actually processed, photographs, and a number of tables. There are about a dozen large oil fields in Saudi Arabia. These fields are discussed, and comparisons are made with other large active oil fields around the world, including the North Sea oil fields started in the early 1970s. The core idea of the book is that we are about to face the reality of limited oil production in Saudi Arabia and in the rest of the Middle East: the situation is not good and projected inventories and extraction rates are too optimistic. The era of growing sources seems to be over, regardless of the political situation in the Middle East. The sources cannot keep up with the demand for oil that is expected to continue to grow.

The book is divided into four sections and then has a very short appendix. The first section is just 69 pages and details the political and historical development of Saudi Arabia as a country, and the introduction of foreign oil companies.

Section two is short, just 50 pages, and covers the subject of how the oil is extracted from the ground, and what has to be done to separate the crude from water, methane, and various other contaminants to get "pure oil". This includes photographs and a number of process schematics. It goes step by step through from the discovery of a field to how the oil is actually extracted and processed, and this can differ for different stages in the life of an oil field.

Section three is the heart of the book. It is a long inventory and description of about a dozen Saudi oil fields with maps and comments. This is one of the biggest sections and takes up 110 pages. He goes through the inventory field by field explaining the size, location, problems, yields, lifetimes, etc. This is a relatively complete description of the Saudi oil situation and oil around the Middle East, in more general terms for the latter and a bit less detailed.

The last section is about 100 pages and he describes the life cycles of various oil fields to show how the oil extraction rate varies with time. Each field goes through a life cycle, sometimes lasting decades, but each has a finite cycle length and each follows a similar production trajectory, i.e.; a slow rise in output at first to a maximum rate, then a peaking, then a drop off. The author has a lot of detailed information on many oil fields from around the world, along with their production histories. Most fields around the globe are on the down slope.

Finally, he has a brief appendix with additional comments to show that the problem with the Saudi fields is an old problem, and he quotes past Congressional testimony and similar, going back from 1974 that back up his present case. The problem is not new. Saudi production is limited and the inventory figures are overly optimistic, and they have a history of being overly optimistic: production is just half of old projections, and raising production levels is not feasible.

The general thrust of the arguments is that the fields are running at near capacity, will peak soon, and then drop off. They will not last centuries or similar. The date is a bit hazy, but with exponential growth in demand it will be sooner rather than later, probably the first decade of the present century, or maybe even this year or in the next few years. At that point we will not be able to meet oil demands, especially for the emerging nations of China and elsewhere.

In summary, once the hype and opinion clears away, and the basic facts are considered, the oil situation is not good. Many economists, most politicians, and the general public have still failed to grasp that an oil based economy cannot be sustained indefinitely because of finite supplies - not taking into account whether carbon dioxide will destroy the atmosphere. Like lung cancer and smoking, there has been a long period of denial and a lack of any real effort to conserve oil or find an alternative. In any case, this book drives the point home - in spades - and with much technical detail. We are about to peak in Saudi oil production, and there are no alternatives. The tap will not be 100% turned off, but supply will peak, decrease, and not the meet demand; our economies and the use of the gasoline, jet fuel, natural gas, or diesel fuel will have to change sooner, not later. Few think that coal is a good solution, and the much promoted two step "clean-coal" has yet to be demonstrated, i.e.: step one works - the high temperature burring of coal, but step two, an effective method of sequestering the carbon dioxide is not proven. The latter is my comment.

This is a well researched and well written book that outlines serious future oil shortages. 5 stars.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1c7c4e0) out of 5 stars Learn how oil is "produced" and why optimism isn't justified June 11 2005
By J. Mann - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I rated this book 5 stars because Simmons is attempting to provoke a serious discussion, on a world-wide scale, on a critical subject (and perhaps he is succeeding). I have read so much on the topic of "peak oil" that this book did not serve as a warning to me; moreover, I do not think the book is the easiest way to get started on the subject. Indeed, an article about Simmons' views, written by Adam Porter on the English-language website of Al Jazeera back in February, served as my introduction to peak oil, and I soon ordered his book from Amazon, but read lots of other books while waiting for this one.

Simmons digs into a most important subject, i.e. whether optimists (including the Saudi oil ministry) or pessimists are to be believed. He addresses this issue by combining an extensive overview of Saudi resources, capabilities, and history with an interesting and extensive description of what it actually takes to produce oil (especially today). This makes me feel I (finally) understand oil production at a depth suitable for an informed and technically aware citizen, something no other book has helped me do - before, I had to simply believe (or not) the flat statements of others. I also come away convinced beyond any doubt that worldwide oil production is now or soon will be in permanent decline. This is serious, as most readers of this review will probably already know.

I believe all of us need to read as much as we can on the subject. I have read books with titles as follows: Collapse; Overshoot; Energy and Society (first half); The End of Oil; Blood and Oil; and Beyond Oil. I check EnergyBulletin.net every day. I've looked several times at Matthew Simmons' company Web site, which contains presentations by him. I've started to look into economic issues; I found papers by John Michael Greer and Joseph Tainter thought-provoking here. There's a lot to understand, since peak oil may have consequences across any aspect of our lives. Anyway, Simmons' book fills lots of blanks in the picture.

btw, make sure you read Appendix C. And finally, Simmons is conscientious, neither polemic nor self-promoting. Where there is uncertainty on an issue Simmons is forthright in admitting it; and his claims are stated with enough detail that other experts in the field can argue any point. Because of this honesty, the book is probably going to be "the" basis for political action and public awareness.
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1c7c48c) out of 5 stars Another dire warning that we must develop energy alternatives March 28 2006
By Dennis Littrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In his book Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak (2005) Kenneth S. Deffeyes warned us that peak oil is upon us and that what is left in the ground is just about the same as what we have already used. He pointed to Thanksgiving Day, 2005 as the day oil hit its peak. Now another world renowned expert on oil, Matthew R. Simmons in this densely considered book, is advising us that the estimates of oil left in the ground by the largest producer of oil, Saudi Arabia, are probably inflated, and at any rate cannot be independently confirmed.

Furthermore, it is supposed that estimates by almost all oil producing countries are inflated since such inflation improves their ability to influence the market while allowing them (OPEC members at least) to produce more.

A question that might be asked is how do we know that there are not great fields of oil somewhere waiting to be discovered? Certainly if there are, the twilight of the oil-based world economy is pushed further into the future leaving us with much less to worry about now. Simmons answers this question for Saudi Arabia at least. He makes it clear that the possibility of any great discoveries on the Arabian peninsula "must now be deemed remote" since the land has been so thoroughly explored. (See Chapter 10 "Coming Up Empty in New Exploration.")

Deffeyes answered this question in another way. Using logic from his mentor M. King Hubbert who predicted with startling accuracy when US production would peak (early 1970s) Deffeyes argues that what's left can be inferred from current production curves. Because oil exploration and production has been so extensive world-wide, if the oil were there, it would have been discovered and drilled for. This is not to say that there are not some (small) fields left undiscovered. There are some, no doubt, but like puddles added to a great lake, they won't affect the overall picture.

This same sort of logic can be applied to Saudi Arabia, and Simmons does indeed use such logic. However, he goes beyond that because he believes that oil prediction simulation models (see Chapter 12, "Saudi Oil Reserves Claims in Doubt") can fail. Typically, he writes, an oilfield will yield about 75 percent of its oil during the first half of its producing life. (p. 278) Almost all of the great Saudi fields are decades old.

The strange thing about this book is that while it is touted as another book predicting the end of oil, it actually argues that the situation is not entirely clear. It is possible that there is still a lot of undiscovered oil left in Saudi Arabia in places such as "the land along the Iraq border, an unexplored area almost as large as California" and a couple of other places. (p. 243) World wide such unexplored places are many. Nonetheless even if a lot of oil is discovered say in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or deep in the Antarctic, the cost of producing that oil will be greater than the cost of producing oil from say the great Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia where the oil gushes out of the ground almost effortlessly.

Actually, according to Simmons "effortlessly" is no longer the correct adjective to use. As oil fields grow old some help is needed to get the oil to rise to the top and flow. Water is typically pumped into the field to get the oil to elevate. Simmons reports on the extensive use of saline water in Saudi Arabia--more evidence that there is not as much oil left as the Saudis would like us to believe.

Also a distinction must be made between pure "reserves" (actual oil in the ground) and "recoverable reserves" (oil that is cost-effective to produce). And a further distinction must be made between grades of oil. It may be cost-effective to pump the sweetest, purest grade of oil out of a field whereas lesser grades would not be worth the expense.

A weakness of the book is that, despite the words "and the World Economy" in the subtitle, which suggest an exploration of consequences and what to expect, there is next to nothing about the effect less oil (than expected) will have on the world economy. Clearly, of course, and in the broadest sense, our standard of living will go down as our energy costs rise. The subtitle is probably just a book biz editor's attempt to gain a larger readership.

Twilight in the Desert is long and extraordinarily detailed and gives the typical reader more information than perhaps would be desired. This reader came away convinced that Simmons's main argument, that Saudi oil reserves have been exaggerated, is probably correct, but curiously his extremely balanced and careful delineation left me feeling that there is still plenty of doubt about both Saudi reserves and those world wide. Stay tuned.

Regardless, one thing is clear, soon or late, within twenty years or fifty, we will have to retool our economies to run on something other than fossil fuels. The sooner we get started on that, the better. If we wait too long the sudden economic shock is likely to be catastrophic.