Harold Hamm Down on California’s Monterey Shale

The Continental Resources CEO says it’s ‘tough to break the code’

As founder and CEO of Continental Resources, Harold Hamm controls the most drilling rights in the Bakken oil field.
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Oct. 16, 2013, 3:53 a.m.

Oil ex­ec­ut­ive Har­old Hamm, who made bil­lions tap­ping the vast Bakken oil field in North Dakota be­fore oth­er com­pan­ies saw the po­ten­tial, soun­ded a pess­im­ist­ic tone about wheth­er the in­dustry will de­vel­op Cali­for­nia’s Monterey Shale form­a­tion, which is es­tim­ated to have pos­sibly five times more oil.

“It’s just been tough to break the code on how to get that,” said Hamm, founder and CEO of Con­tin­ent­al Re­sources, an in­de­pend­ent oil com­pany with the largest foot­print in the Bakken oil fields in West­ern North Dakota. “Every­body thought they could and it hasn’t worked out.”

He ad­ded that the field, which is loc­ated in the San Joa­quin Val­ley in cent­ral Cali­for­nia, has not yet ma­tured to a form that com­pan­ies could de­vel­op with today’s tech­no­lo­gies.

Speak­ing at a din­ner Wed­nes­day night in Wash­ing­ton with me­dia re­port­ers and oth­er in­de­pend­ent-pet­ro­leum ex­ec­ut­ives, Hamm said his com­pany had con­sidered pur­su­ing the Monterey form­a­tion.

“We went there and thought it might have a lot of po­ten­tial,” Hamm said. “I’d be out there, but I just can’t do any­thing dif­fer­ent than some of the people who have already been there and made that at­tempt.”

The oil in­dustry’s po­ten­tial pur­suit of the Monterey shale form­a­tion has triggered an in­tense de­bate over hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing, or frack­ing, in Cali­for­nia, a drilling tech­nique that’s helped un­lock vast re­serves of oil and nat­ur­al gas around the coun­try, in­clud­ing in North Dakota. But it’s con­tro­ver­sial for the en­vir­on­ment­al risks as­so­ci­ated with it, in­clud­ing wa­ter con­tam­in­a­tion.

Last month, Cali­for­nia’s Demo­crat­ic Gov. Jerry Brown passed a law reg­u­lat­ing frack­ing.

Called a “pi­on­eer” by In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary Sally Jew­ell this sum­mer for his early in­sight in­to the oil in­dustry’s po­ten­tial in North Dakota, Hamm’s glum out­look for the Monterey doesn’t bode well for pro­du­cers look­ing to tap in­to it.

“I don’t see — ” Hamm stopped mid-sen­tence and re­cast what he said: “It’s yet to be seen”¦It might have a lot of po­ten­tial, but there are reas­ons why it’s not be­ing pro­duced.”

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