The name of Harold Hamm, a sharecropper’s son who made a fortune building shale oil exploration company Continental Resources, has been tossed around as a leading candidate for energy secretary in a Donald Trump Cabinet. However, although Trump has praised Hamm’s business acumen and his ideas for boosting the shale oil and gas business, the job of energy secretary isn’t an obvious fit for the Oklahoma tycoon.
Hamm hasn’t commented. His spokesman Kristin Thomas said: “There is nothing to talk about one way or the other. There hasn’t been a conversation about the role. No conjecture. No speculation.”
“I believe Harold Hamm has earned the right of first refusal,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), an early supporter of Trump and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “He is a very successful businessman and a peer of Donald Trump’s, and I think Donald Trump has been quite clear he likes that kind of person in government. He’d like to see government run more like a business.”
Friends of Hamm say that he would seriously consider the job if asked, and he pondered the issue four years ago when he was advising Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And he discussed it with others, including Mike Cantrell, who was then working for Hamm at Continental Resources.
“My advice was: ‘Why would you do that? Run your company, use your influence. Do what you want to do without having to serve in DOE,’ ” Cantrell said. “The Harold Hamm response was no response. He was thoughtful. He didn’t say, ‘No, I would never do that.’ I left that conversation not knowing what he’d do. He’s a patriot first. I don’t think he’d turn [Trump] down.”
One potential obstacle: The issues Hamm cares about most deeply don’t fall under the purview of the Energy Department. Hamm wants more drilling on federal lands, an easing of the Endangered Species Act and fewer rules about how shale oil drillers should manage the methane usually found in the same wells. The first two are Interior Department issues and the third falls under the Environmental Protection Agency. Hamm has also been critical about wind energy, citing subsidies and arguing that more birds die in collisions with turbines than from getting stuck in oil waste ponds.
By contrast, more than half of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to managing the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and cleaning up the environmental waste left behind in Washington state by the builders of the country’s earliest nuclear weapons. The department also runs the national laboratories, which the Obama administration has steered toward climate-related work, and does things such as set energy efficiency standards for appliances.
The other question is whether Hamm would want to step down from his chief executive position at Continental Resources, the $16.8 billion company in which he owns a majority of shares. The company is one of the largest leaseholders in North Dakota and has extensive leases in other shale oil areas. Cantrell says that Hamm has long had a succession plan in place, although it isn’t clear exactly who would succeed him. One leading candidate would be Continental Resources president and chief operating officer Jack Stark, a geologist who joined the company in 1992.
Hamm “is not what I would call a theory X manager,” Cantrell said. “He doesn’t have his hand on everything. He knows the direction he wants to go and people do their jobs. He’s a delegator. He is not dictatorial.”
What that means for his interest in the energy job — if it is offered — remains to be seen.
“Harold keeps his own counsel,” said Cantrell, who was vice president of regulatory affairs at Continental. In 2012, when Hamm was pondering a Romney administration, “there was nobody closer to him on policy [than I was]. Even then I didn’t know what he wanted to do” about a job under Romney.
Recently, a reporter texted Cantrell and said Hamm would be miserable in the energy secretary job. Cantrell said, “I texted back and said ‘no a lot of bureaucrats would be miserable.’ ”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.