Oklahoma’s Future Rests in the Hands of Two Very Different Oil Billionaires
Ben Steverman | Bloomberg
Hailing from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, George Kaiser and Harold Hamm have each invested heavily in the Sooner State.
George Kaiser, a 76-year-old Oklahoma banker and oilman giving away almost his entire $10.5 billion fortune, wants higher taxes on his own industry. He’s bankrolling trendy neighborhoods in Tulsa, an early-childhood education program and a movement toward criminal-justice reform. Kaiser says his priority is to wean the state’s economy from “cyclical, commodity-based industry.”
Harold Hamm, founder of Oklahoma City oil-and-gas giant Continental Resources Inc., has fought to keep things as they are: lean budgets, lax environmental regulations and low fossil-fuel levies. With a net worth of $13.8 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, he funds the state’s most conservative politicians while arguing for higher taxes on wind turbines sprouting on the rolling hills. Hamm, 72, has promised to donate most of his money to “causes that will enable people with ambition and tenacity to achieve their goals.” So far that’s included millions for research on what he calls the “American energy renaissance”—a doubling of oil production since 2011.
“You couldn’t find anybody more different than those two guys,” said Mike Cantrell, a former Continental Resources executive who is president of the Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance, a group of small oil companies that campaigned for higher taxes to fund education. “They both care a great deal about Oklahoma, and both are tough and brilliant businessmen.”