Excerpts from Teh Wall Street Journal:
How North Dakota Became Saudi Arabia
Harold Hamm, discoverer of the Bakken fields of the northern Great Plains, on America’s oil future and why OPEC’s days are numbered.
By STEPHEN MOORE
Harold Hamm, the Oklahoma-based founder and CEO of Continental Resources, the 14th-largest oil company in America, is a man who thinks big. He came to Washington last month to spread a needed message of economic optimism: With the right set of national energy policies, the United States could be “completely energy independent by the end of the decade. We can be the Saudi Arabia of oil and natural gas in the 21st century.”
“President Obama is riding the wrong horse on energy,” he adds. We can’t come anywhere near the scale of energy production to achieve energy independence by pouring tax dollars into “green energy” sources like wind and solar, he argues. It has to come from oil and gas.
How much oil does Bakken have? The official estimate of the U.S. Geological Survey a few years ago was between four and five billion barrels. Mr. Hamm disagrees: “No way. We estimate that the entire field, fully developed, in Bakken is 24 billion barrels.”
And for those who think this oil find is only making Mr. Hamm rich, he notes that today in America “there are 10 million royalty owners across the country” who receive payments for the oil drilled on their land. “The wealth is being widely shared.”
His only beef these days is with Washington. Mr. Hamm was invited to the White House for a “giving summit” with wealthy Americans who have pledged to donate at least half their wealth to charity. (He’s given tens of millions of dollars already to schools like Oklahoma State and for diabetes research.) “Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, they were all there,” he recalls.
When it was Mr. Hamm’s turn to talk briefly with President Obama, “I told him of the revolution in the oil and gas industry and how we have the capacity to produce enough oil to enable America to replace OPEC. I wanted to make sure he knew about this.”
The president’s reaction? “He turned to me and said, ‘Oil and gas will be important for the next few years. But we need to go on to green and alternative energy. [Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.’” Mr. Hamm holds his head in his hands and says, “Even if you believed that, why would you want to stop oil and gas development? It was pretty disappointing.”
Washington keeps “sticking a regulatory boot at our necks and then turns around and asks: ‘Why aren’t you creating more jobs,’” he says. He roils at the Interior Department delays of months and sometimes years to get permits for drilling. “These delays kill projects,” he says. Even the Securities and Exchange Commission is now tightening the screws on the oil industry, requiring companies like Continental to report their production and federal royalties on thousands of individual leases under the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting rules. “I could go to jail because a local operator misreported the production in the field,” he says.
The White House proposal to raise $40 billion of taxes on oil and gas—by excluding those industries from credits that go to all domestic manufacturers—is also a major hindrance to exploration and drilling. “That just stops the drilling,” Mr. Hamm believes. “I’ve seen these things come about before, like [Jimmy] Carter’s windfall profits tax.” He says America’s rig count on active wells went from 4,500 to less than 55 in a matter of months. “That was a dumb idea. Thank God, Reagan got rid of that.”
A few months ago the Obama Justice Department brought charges against Continental and six other oil companies in North Dakota for causing the death of 28 migratory birds, in violation of the Migratory Bird Act. Continental’s crime was killing one bird “the size of a sparrow” in its oil pits. The charges carry criminal penalties of up to six months in jail. “It’s not even a rare bird. There’re jillions of them,” he explains. He says that “people in North Dakota are really outraged by these legal actions,” which he views as “completely discriminatory” because the feds have rarely if ever prosecuted the Obama administration’s beloved wind industry, which kills hundreds of thousands of birds each year.
Continental pleaded not guilty to the charges last week in federal court. For Mr. Hamm the whole incident is tantamount to harassment. “This shouldn’t happen in America,” he says. To him the case is further proof that Washington “is out to get us.”
It’s hard to disagree with Mr. Hamm’s assessment that Barack Obama has the energy story in America wrong. The government floods green energy—a niche market that supplies 2.5% of our energy needs—with billions of dollars of subsidies a year. “Wind isn’t commercially feasible with natural gas prices below $6″ per thousand cubic feet, notes Mr. Hamm. Right now its price is below $4. This may explain the administration’s hostility to the fossil-fuel renaissance.
Mr. Hamm calculates that if Washington would allow more drilling permits for oil and natural gas on federal lands and federal waters, “I truly believe the federal government could over time raise $18 trillion in royalties.” That’s more than the U.S. national debt, I say. He smiles.