Three Things Media Should Know About Harold Hamm, Trump’s Leading Pick For Energy Secretary
Research ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS
Fracking industry billionaire Harold Hamm is the “leading contender” to be energy secretary in a Donald Trump administration, according to a Reuters source, which would make Hamm the first ever U.S. energy secretary drawn directly from the oil and gas industry. Hamm has a history of influencing government officials to promote legislation that benefits his company’s bottom line, exploited the Orlando shooting tragedy to call for more oil drilling, and tried to suppress scientific research that was unfavorable to the fracking industry.
Harold Hamm, Who Would Be First Energy Secretary Drawn From Fossil Fuel Industry, Has History Of Pushing Industry Agenda At Expense Of Public Interest
Reuters: Trump Considering Oil Industry Executive Harold Hamm As Energy Secretary. GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is considering Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm to serve as his energy secretary, according to a Reuters report. The article noted that a prominent Republican oil investor said Trump campaign officials told him Hamm is “the leading contender” for the position. If appointed, Hamm would be the “first U.S. energy secretary drawn directly from the oil and gas industry since the cabinet position was created in 1977," according to Reuters. [Reuters, 7/21/16]
Hamm Teamed Up With OK Attorney General Who Has Led Fight Against Environmental And Public Health Protections. In 2014, a New York Times investigation documented that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general were engaged in an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” with large fossil fuel companies to “push back against the Obama regulatory agenda," and that Hamm was one of Pruitt’s “closest partners.” Hamm served as chairman of Pruitt’s re-election campaign in 2013 and 2014, and in recent years, Pruitt has been fighting the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to protect drinking water from industrial pollution and reduce methane emissions, among other environmental and health safeguards. [The New York Times, 12/6/14; OK Energy Today, 2/4/15; EPA.gov, accessed 7/22/16; OAG.OK.gov, 5/3/13]
Hamm Is A Member Of Lobbying Group Behind Policy Allowing Fracking Companies To Pollute Drinking Water. Hamm is a member of the Interstate Oil And Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), a “quasi-governmental” organization created by Congress that essentially serves as an oil industry lobbying group and “has been quietly working for decades to restrict federal oversight of oil and gas,” as InsideClimate News (ICN) reported. The IOGCC claimed credit for a measure within the 2005 Energy Policy Act that exempted hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking -- from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. That provision, known as the “Halliburton loophole,” has “helped enable the modern fracking boom that has created vast economic benefits, but also has been implicated in cases of drinking water contamination, air pollution and rising emissions of climate-changing methane,” ICN reported. ICN further stated:
The IOGCC's efforts have helped keep regulation of oil and gas development mostly in the hands of states, resulting in a patchwork of laws that allows companies to pollute more in some states than in others. The dearth of federal energy regulation and inconsistent state practices have played a role in infrastructure disasters such as water contamination and most recently the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak, according to environmental and health groups.
While little known and working with a relatively modest budget of $1 million, the IOGCC has tallied an impressive winning streak of helping to keep federal oversight at bay. When members of Congress tried to close the Halliburton loophole in 2009, several states adopted resolutions to preserve it—using language directly from an IOGCC resolution. Top state regulators have testified on the IOGCC's behalf before Congress to defend fracking's safety. The group also resisted federal rules on underground natural gas storage, and worked with former Rep. John Boehner's office to gather support for a bill to block fracking regulations on public lands. [InsideClimate News, 4/11/16]
Hamm Defended Oil And Gas Subsidies, Which Majority Of Americans Oppose. In 2012, Hamm testified before Congress against proposals to repeal oil industry tax breaks, claiming that removing the subsidies would threaten an industry that “holds the key to job creation, balance of trade and national security,” according to prepared remarks reviewed by The Hill. But a 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 74 percent of Americans totally or mostly approved of “eliminating tax credits for oil and gas industries.” And the bi-annual University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll has consistently shown that only a minority of Americans favor the federal government subsidizing the oil industry. [The Hill, 6/11/12; Wall Street Journal, accessed 7/21/16; University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll, 1/10/16]
Hamm Behind Successful Campaign To Lift Oil Export Ban. Hamm and his company Continental Resources “spearheaded” the successful campaign to lift the decades-long ban on crude oil exports, DeSmogBlog concluded based on a review of a document detailing the company’s involvement. According to Bloomberg, Hamm himself “visited Capitol Hill almost weekly and testified at some of the at least nine congressional hearings on exports.” DeSmogBlog explained that lifting the oil export ban would “result in large increases in fracking for oil in the U.S.” [DeSmogBlog, 12/28/15; 8/10/15; Bloomberg, 12/21/15]
Hamm Exploited Domestic Terrorism To Push For More U.S. Oil Drilling
Hamm Exploited Orlando Shooting To Call For More Drilling. During his July 20 speech supporting Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Hamm stated: "Every time we can't drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded. Orlando brought this home once again. … Every onerous regulation puts American lives at risk. Developing America's own oil supply is a matter of national security.” Hamm made a similar claim on CNBC’s Closing Bell, saying that crude oil is “the biggest geopolitical weapon that we have … in the world. And certainly we do not need to be funding the nations funding terrorism. And that’s what we’re doing unless we produce more here.” [PR Newswire, 7/20/16; CNBC, Closing Bell, 7/20/16]
But Officials Found No Link Between Terrorist Groups And Orlando Shooter. The CIA chief said he was not “able to uncover any link” between the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen and ISIS, The Guardian reported, despite Mateen pledging allegiance to the group as he killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub. The FBI similarly found no connection between Mateen and any terrorist groups, according to The Daily Beast. [The Guardian, 6/16/16; The Daily Beast, 6/14/16]
And Evidence Suggests Increased U.S. Oil Production Has Little Impact On -- Or May Even Help -- ISIS. Fortune reporter Chris Matthews described the claim that expanding U.S. energy could harm ISIS as a “specious” argument, in part because the increase in U.S. oil production and subsequent fall in global oil prices has correlated with the rise of ISIS:
[T]he huge increase in American supply as the result of advances in fracking technology has been one of the driving forces behind the sudden fall in oil prices that began in late 2014. And it’s hard to argue, given ISIS, that the Middle East has become any safer for the U.S.
In fact, the decline in the price of oil and the rise of ISIS correlate strongly. In early 2014, ISIS began capturing major cities in Syria and Iraq at the same time that global stockpiles of oil began increasing unsustainably. And though the rise of ISIS and general instability in the Middle East is the result of multifarious, complex forces, the desire to exert power through controlling the flow of oil from that region is undoubtedly a major factor.
One could even argue that the the United States success in nearly doubling its production of oil to 9.3 million barrels per day in 2015 has helped to exacerbate the very same tensions that have given ISIS an opportunity to gain a foothold in the region.
When one understands the stakes of the game being played—the power that results from supplying natural gas to Europe—it makes more sense why a recession-racked Russia, already expending resources on the conflict in the Ukraine—would decide to begin fighting a second front in the Middle East. It also makes sense why countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia would risk stoking the flames of Sunni extremism in their support of anti-[Syrian President Basshar al-]Assad movements.
And these dynamics show why the strength of the U.S. energy exploration industry can actually cause headaches for the United States abroad, as countries that could once count on sky-high oil and gas prices to underwrite their power scramble for market share in a world of cheap energy.
CNBC.com similarly reported that security experts “say low oil prices may serve the [ISIS] terrorist network’s goals,” quoting Eurasia group president Ian Bremmer as saying: “The bigger impact of low oil prices is the delegitimization of the gulf monarchies, so paradoxically, a sustained oil crash is actually a plus for ISIS.” CNBC.com quoted other security experts who offered differing opinions about how global oil prices could affect ISIS, but summarized them as saying “it will take a lot more than low oil prices to really damage the funding operations of ISIS.” [Fortune, 12/21/15; CNBC.com, 12/21/15]
Security Expert Peter Harrell Outlined Series Of Steps To Undercut ISIS’ Oil Trade -- And None Involved Expanding U.S. Oil Production. Peter Harrell, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, presented to Congress a set of steps that the U.S. and coalition partners should take to undercut ISIS’ oil and gas revenue, including “escalating the military action against oil and gas targets in ISIS territory,” “put[ting] pressure on Turkey and the Kurdish Regional government in northern Iraq to crack down on the oil smuggling that does exist,” and “escalat[ing] our efforts to target the flow of oil-related equipment to ISIS territory.” None of Harrell’s recommendations involved expanding oil production and drilling in the U.S. [Center for a New American Security, 12/10/15]
Securing America’s Future Energy: Countries Cannot Achieve Energy Security If They Are “Economically Beholden To Oil." The Energy Security Leadership Council, a project of Securing America’s Future Energy -- which describes itself as a “non-partisan, action-oriented organization committed to combating the economic and national security threats posed by America’s dependence on oil” -- released a report in 2012 titled: “The New American Oil Boom: Implications for Energy Security.” The report stated:
The goal of self-sufficiency in energy supplies misdiagnoses the problem as one characterized largely by import levels. In fact, energy security is almost entirely a function of the importance of oil consumption in the domestic economy—oil dependence—and is not related to the original source of that oil. A nation cannot achieve energy security so long as it is economically beholden to oil, which is priced in a global market. [Energy Security Leadership Council, 2012]
Hamm Worked To Suppress Scientific Research Linking Fracking To Earthquakes
Report: Hamm Exerted Pressure On Oklahoma Scientists To Keep Them Quiet About Link Between Fracking And Earthquakes. Scientists have “known for decades that injecting waste fluid in deep disposal wells -- from oil and gas or other industrial activities -- can cause earthquakes in rare cases,” according to E&E News, and in recent years scientists have discovered a connection between Oklahoma’s oil and gas activities and the state’s dramatic increase in earthquakes. Yet according to emails obtained by E&E News, Hamm and other Oklahoma officials worked to suppress the scientists’ findings. From E&E News:
Oklahoma's state scientists have suspected for years that oil and gas operations in the state were causing a swarm of earthquakes, but in public they rejected such a connection.
When the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) did cautiously agree with other scientists about such a link, emails obtained by EnergyWire show the state seismologist was called into meetings with his boss, University of Oklahoma President David Boren, and oil executives "concerned" about the acknowledgement.
One of the oilmen was Continental Resources Chairman Harold Hamm, a leading donor to the university.
Hamm is also one of the industry executives in Oklahoma who don't believe in a connection between disposal and earthquakes. Asked about the shaking after a 2014 congressional hearing, Hamm told EnergyWire, "It's certainly not related to oil and gas activity."
Perhaps more relevant to Boren and Holland is Hamm's relationship to the university. In March 2011, Boren declared Hamm's $20 million gift launching the Harold Hamm Oklahoma Diabetes Center "the largest single gift in the history of the Health Sciences Center."
In addition, Boren serves on Continental's board of directors. In 2013, he received $272,700 in cash and stock for his service.
In a media outing earlier this year, Holland acknowledged to reporters from the Tulsa World, The New York Times and The Washington Post that the industry has tried to influence his work.
"I can't really talk about it," Holland told the reporters. "We're going to do the right thing."
But Bob Jackman says Holland did talk about it last year and indicated that it was Hamm who was leaning on him. [E&E News, 3/3/15]
Hamm Tried To Have Scientists Conducting Earthquake Research Dismissed. In response to the University of Oklahoma scientists’ earthquake research, Hamm told Larry Grillot, then-dean of the university’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, that he was “upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see select [Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS)] staff dismissed,” according to an email from Grillot obtained by Bloomberg News. Grillot also wrote that Hamm indicated that he would be "visiting with Governor [Mary] Fallin on the topic of moving the OGS out of the University of Oklahoma." Bloomberg added that “Hamm's meeting with Grillot resulted in no apparent changes at the university.” [Bloomberg News, 5/15/15]