Mitt Romney’s fundraiser on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City was not just another chance for wealthy donors to fill the candidate’s campaign coffers, but reveals the GOP presidential candidate’s special relationship with oil tycoon Harold Hamm, chairman of Romney’s Energy Policy Advisory Council and host of the quiet soirée. What Hamm and Romney share, aside from great wealth, is a powerful desire to complete the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Hamm is the chairman and CEO of Continental Resources, one of the nation’s largest independent energy companies and leading developer and owner of more than 600,000 acres in the Bakken Oil Field in North Dakota. If the northern section of the pipeline were complete, it would connect to Hamm’s oil field, giving him a 1,700-mile conduit to the Gulf of Mexico. Hamm ranks 33rd on the Forbes’ wealth list and is worth around $12 billion. He estimates 24 billion barrels of crude at Bakken, mostly still underground, so Keystone XL — which would run down from Canada — would expedite his ascent up the billionaire ladder.
With sponsorships ranging up to $50,000 a head, the fundraiser drew roughly 200 attendees to hear Romney speak at Hamm’s home in Nichols Hills, Oklahoma. When asked about the fundraiser’s attendees prior to the event, Hamm didn’t mention names but told The Oklahoman he “knows a lot of oil folks” and “invited everybody” he knows. Hamm and his publicists did not return calls to The National Memo.
Romney says that building the northern section of the XL pipeline is a “no-brainer,” and has called the president an “enemy of energy development” for halting TransCanada’s proposed construction of the XL pipeline in the Nebraska Sandhills above the Ogallala Aquifer. After President Obama denied TransCanada a permit to construct the northern section of the Keystone XL, Hamm and a group of oil industry executives wrote an open letter to the president in an editorial in the The Oklahoman, criticizing his decision to deny the permit as a political maneuver.
“Approval of the entire Keystone XL pipeline should happen now — not after the election,” they wrote to the president. “…America’s greatest benefit will come when we can transport oil from our best energy partner, Canada, and oil-rich North Dakota and Montana.”
Despite Hamm’s homilies about liberating the US from foreign oil, crude from the Canadian tar sands is still foreign. Heather Taylor, director of the National Resource Defense Council’s Action Fund, told The National Memo that tycoons like Hamm want to build the XL pipeline to “raise the price” of US and Canadian crude. Canadian regulators disclosed the same thing in a 2010 report, saying the “purpose” of the pipeline is to disburse the surplus of oil in the Midwest and “create a higher price” for crude. Bloomberg reported prices may rise as much as 20 cents a gallon in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain region if the XL project is completed.
Shortly after the president’s decision, Mitt Romney asked an audience in North Dakota how anyone could “say no” to a pipeline that will “create tens of thousands of jobs.”
When Romney refers to job creation, he might mean oil spill cleanup crews. In its first year of operation the Keystone I had 12 spills, one of which dumped 14,000 gallons of oil in North Dakota. Residents said a 60-foot geyser erupted from the pipeline and gushed for 30 minutes. TransCanada cleanup crews arrived five hours after the disaster.
Hamm insists TransCanda is using “every safety device known to man” to prevent a XL pipeline spill. Data from scientific research, and even TransCanada, prove otherwise.
TransCanada estimated the XL would have 11 significant spills during a 50-year lifecycle. In “Analysis of Worst-Case Spills by the Keystone XL Pipeline,” John Stansbury, associate professor at the University of Nebraska, says a more realistic estimate is 91 “significant” spills or two large spills a year — with a worst-case-scenario spill pouring 7.9 million gallons of crude oil in the Nebraska Sandhills above the Ogalla Aquifer, polluting a vital source of potable water and eliminating an integral water source for the nation’s agriculture industry.
“You can’t project the enormity of a spill above the aquifer,” Taylor said. “It’s dirty water, it’s dirty food. It’s dirty air. A spill is a big deal and devastating to the economy.”
Not only would the pipeline increase the price of North American oil, it would save Hamm millions per year on transportation. Trains ship North Dakota’s crude for $2 or more a barrel. Shipping it by pipeline would decrease the costs to $1.50 per barrel. Hamm produces more than 90,000 barrels of oil per day in the Bakken and is on track to double his 2011 output.
No wonder Romney says the president doesn’t see the value in the XL pipeline. In this election cycle so far, Romney has received more than $2.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil, and super PAC oilmen like the Koch brothers plan to pump more than $200 million into attacks on Obama. According to Think Progress, in the first quarter of 2012, the American Petroleum Institute, Crossroads GPS and the American Energy Alliance spent more than $16 million on ads blasting the president’s energy policies. Hamm and his wife Sue have contributed $9,600 to Romney since 2008. Opening their home to the “oil folks” represented a much bigger contribution by proxy.
On the campaign trail Romney’s vowed to build the XL pipeline “himself” if necessary. But Hamm’s fundraiser suggests why Romney chose an oil billionaire to chair his Energy Policy Advisory Council.