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10/19/2007 07:00:00

Oil Expert Discusses End of Fossil Fuel

Pasadena, Calif.--With the price of oil at a record high of nearly $90 a barrel comes a natural question: How much oil is left in the world?

On Tuesday, October 23, Matthew R. Simmons--prominent oil-industry insider, renowned investment banker, and author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy--will discuss why he thinks the world's supply of oil and gas is peaking now. He will outline difficult choices the world will face when our addiction to using fossil-fuel energy is forcibly ended, and will explain why far higher energy prices are a blessing, not a curse.

In his book, Simmons highlights the conflicts of interest that national oil companies face in stating their reserves to the world. The reports are difficult to verify and not audited; oil companies thus have an incentive to exaggerate. He presents detailed data from oil fields in Saudi Arabia, suggesting that they overreport their reserves, and he explores the peak production and decline of oil fields in other regions. Oil production seems to be on the decline worldwide, and we are likely to soon face a potentially catastrophic oil shortage.

The Lauritsen Memorial Lecture series welcomes controversial topics like the one Simmons will discuss. In former years, nuclear energy, weapons, and missile defense have taken the stage. Series organizer Tom Tombrello, Kenan Professor, professor of physics, and chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy, says that the lectures are intended to present technical topics of current interest.

The lecture series commemorates the legacy of two former Caltech physics professors, Charles C. Lauritsen and Thomas Lauritsen. In addition to his service to Caltech, Charles Lauritsen created the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory to study the use of high-voltage X-rays in cancer therapy, helped found the Aerospace Corporation, and served as an adviser to President Eisenhower. He and his son Thomas served the Institute for more than 68 years, and their commitment to excellence played a significant role at Caltech. "Charlie and Tommy dealt with the national problems of their day," says Tombrello. He notes that the Lauritsen legacy serves to show students that "in addition to studying basic science, we can affect the real, complex world. We owe it to the students here to show them the challenges in the world they are about to enter."

The lecture begins at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, at 332 S. Michigan Avenue, south of Del Mar Boulevard, on the Caltech campus in Pasadena. Seating is available on a free, no-ticket-required, first-come, first-served basis.

For more information, call (626) 395-4652. Outside the greater Pasadena area, call toll-free, 1(888) 2CALTECH (1-888-222-5832).

Written by elisabeth nadin