A line from Donald Trump near the end of Sunday night’s heated presidential debate may indicate how closely the Republican nominee listens to Continental Resources Inc. founder Harold Hamm.
Trump raised a concern about foreign companies buying U.S. refineries that echoes a complaint made in 2015 by Hamm.
"Foreign companies are now coming in buying our — buying so many of our different plants and then rejiggering the plant so that they can take care of their oil," Trump said.
During the successful effort to get Congress to lift the crude oil export ban, Hamm complained that the ban played into a "deliberate, calculated takeover of American refining" by foreign countries and companies (EnergyWire, May 12, 2015). A presentation from Hamm’s Domestic Energy Producers Alliance (DEPA) pointed to Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
Hamm complained that the foreign companies converted their U.S. refineries to process "heavy, sour crude." That excludes the "light, sweet" crude from the Bakken shale, where Hamm’s company is the largest leaseholder. That caused Hamm and other U.S. producers to sell their oil at a discount compared with international markets.
"Basically, they took over America’s refining capacity without firing a shot," Hamm said in a 2015 interview with E&E News. Hamm also aired his concerns in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.
Hamm’s position was more combative than those of his fellow oil producers. Others pointed out that allowing exports would counter the influence of traditional foreign policy adversaries such as Russia and Iran. But they stopped well short of criticizing U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia or Canada.
It’s not the first time a Trump energy policy has echoed that of a friendly billionaire. Last month, the campaign issued and then retracted a fact sheet saying the GOP nominee wanted to scrap U.S. EPA’s controversial Renewable Identification Number program, which allows refiners to purchase credits from other companies as a means to comply with the federal renewable fuel standard (Greenwire, Sept. 16). The language echoed a proposal by billionaire investor and Trump supporter Carl Icahn.
During a May speech on energy in North Dakota, Trump channeled a common anecdote of Hamm’s about dead ducks and drilling. In 2011, a federal prosecutor in North Dakota brought criminal misdemeanor charges against Continental Resources and six other oil companies for failing to prevent 28 migratory birds, mostly ducks, from dying in the companies’ waste ponds (Greenwire, June 7).
In Trump’s telling, it became a "use of totalitarian taxes" by U.S. EPA to force energy companies "to pay multibillion-dollar fines before a penalty is even confirmed, which is actually rather hard to believe."
Praise for ‘the king of energy’
Trump has praised Hamm, who endorsed him in April, as "the king of energy." Hamm has been mentioned as a possible secretary of Energy in a Trump Cabinet.
But Hamm and Trump have not been able to get on the same page on the question of whether local governments should be able to ban hydraulic fracturing and drilling.
In late July, Trump told a television reporter he supports fracking but thought voters should have a say in whether it should be banned (ClimateWire, Aug. 1). In August, Hamm told The Wall Street Journal that while he hadn’t talked to Trump about it, he was certain that Trump said he doesn’t support bans on fracking.
It’s not clear how concerned Hamm remains about foreign ownership of U.S. refineries. Continental Resources spokeswoman Kristin Thomas said yesterday that Hamm was traveling and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Hamm’s advocacy group doesn’t list foreign ownership of refineries on its website among the issues it is pressing. It lists no issues related to the crude export ban, which was lifted in congressional spending legislation in December 2015.
Thomas said the two-year campaign to lift the crude export ban made the foreign refinery issue "widely known — particularly on the Hill." The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
But it flummoxed some of Trump’s critics. In a post-debate "fact-check" write-up, the liberal publication Grist quoted Trump’s refinery comment, then wrote, "What is Trump trying to say with this gibberish? We have no idea."