Today, the 66-year-old Hamm is a multibillionaire who could buy the entire town several times over. An early believer in the notion that the techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing could be merged to unlock new layers of oil, he is the chief executive of Continental Resources, the leading exploration company in the booming Bakken Formation, which stretches across Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. His 68 percent stake in the company is currently worth $7.7 billion, and Forbes recently ranked him the world’s 76th-richest person.
Now Hamm is exploring politics, too. He hosted a fundraiser for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and recently donated $985,000 to Restore Our Future, a super PAC devoted to supporting Romney’s candidacy. While super PACs are supposed to be independent, the former cotton picker has also become a member of Romney’s energy advisory team, feeding the candidate optimistic assessments about U.S. oil production. Hamm is trying to take the lessons of the Oklahoma and North Dakota oil patches and apply them in Washington for the nation’s benefit — and his own.
The Romney energy team, whose full membership list has not been disclosed, holds weekly conference calls, Hamm says. But Hamm is not bashful about his views. His rarely updated Web site says, “Since President Obama’s election three and a half years ago, he and his administration have done everything in their power to stop fossil fuel usage.” Hamm, by contrast, has lauded the virtues of keeping tax incentives for oil exploration companies such as his, even as Romney has opposed such incentives for wind energy. Hamm has also criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for rules that will phase in safer, cleaner hydraulic fracturing practices. Such guidelines, he says, should be left to states. And he supports the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ease the transportation crunch for North Dakota oil.
Most of all, Hamm promotes a vision of oil plenty. “There are two separate camps,” Hamm said. “One of them is that the oil and gas resource is very scarce and running out; that the glass is not half full; that it is drying up. And the other [camp] being one of abundance and what’s really here.”
He said, “The one of scarcity, that’s just wrong. It’s been overtaken basically by the technology that’s gone on with horizontal drilling.”