Harold Hamm: The Billionaire Oilman Fueling America’s Recovery

by Christopher Helman, Forbes Staff

Harold Hamm has transformed the U.S. oil industry like no one since John D. Rockefeller, while helping to keep domestic prices low — and making himself a $17 billion fortune. The great domestic energy boom, he says, is just beginning.

Two Scotches in, with seats on the floor of Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena, Harold Hamm is feeling good. And why not? His hometown Thunder is spending the evening whupping the Philadelphia 76ers. Earlier Hamm announced big bonuses for Continental Resources employees, courtesy of record oil production. And a judge’s ruling, revealed that morning, in Hamm’s divorce case suggested the energy tycoon would keep the Continental shares he already owned when he married soon-to-be-ex Sue Ann Hamm 26 years ago. With that chunk of stock, encompassing about $16 billion out of his $16.9 billion fortune, Hamm owns 70% of Continental.

As every wildcatter knows, such is life in the oil patch when you’re on a hot streak. And Hamm’s on perhaps the most epic one in domestic energy history, perhaps save for John D. Rockefeller’s. No one, aside from kings, dictators and post-Soviet kleptocrats, personally owns more black gold–Continental has proved reserves of 1 billion barrels, mostly locked underneath North Dakota. Hamm took the company public in 2007–and shares are up 600% since, as the revolution in horizontal drilling has given America a cheap energy booster shot, fueling factories, keeping a lid on gas prices and adding millions of jobs.

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