You could easily describe Harold Hamm as an oil baron, tycoon, self-made billionaire, maybe even one of the last American wildcatters. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But as fitting as those descriptions might resonate, Hamm sees himself as something entirely different—an oil finder with the heart of a geologist. His step down announced this week as CEO of Okla. City-based Continental Resources is far from the end of Hamm’s storied career as one of the most successful, prolific “oil finders” in U.S. history. The same day he turns over the reigns to the company he founded at age 21, Hamm will slip into his new role as Continental’s chairman of the board.

Contintental Resources

Continental Resources (NYSE: CLR) is a top 10 independent oil producer in the U.S. Lower 48 and a leader in America’s energy renaissance. Based in Oklahoma City, Continental is the largest leaseholder and one of the largest producers in the nation’s premier oil field, the Bakken of North Dakota and Montana. The Company also has leading positions in Oklahoma, including its SCOOP Woodford and SCOOP Springer discoveries and the STACK and Northwest Cana plays. With a focus on the exploration and production of oil, Continental has unlocked the technology and resources vital to American energy independence and our nation’s leadership in the new world oil market.

You already may know Hamm’s rags-to-riches story and how he rose to become the pioneer in developing the Bakken shale play. But it’s worth a quick glimpse in the rearview to gain a full study of the man and his utterly relentless ambition. The “rags” beginning of Hamm’s life came at birth in 1945 as the 13th child to poor sharecroppers. As a child, he worked barefoot alongside his parents in the Okla., cottonfields to help his struggling family. He later would start his own business, trucking water to and from the oil patch, fully aware where help was needed to keep oil flowing, but now envisioning his own oil strike. Then, a turning point in 1971, when Hamm took out a loan to drill his first well. Continental might have been a speck-of-a-producer back then, but Hamm held grand ideas to find “the next big oilfield.”

And by golly, he did. Here’s where the “riches” part comes in.

Horizontal drilling in the 1990s had just emerged as a promising new technique to unlock crude oil from previously impenetrable rock. Hamm gambled his resources on the Bakken in N.D., and Mont., employing both horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing at a time when other producers there hadn’t yet caught on. And guess what? The gushers not only came but kept coming, launching Hamm’s Continental success into the stratosphere and anointing him a multi-billionaire in the process.

Today, from his home state, Harold Hamm and Continental remain one of the largest producers in the Bakken and Okla.’s SCOOP/STACK play. During 3Q, the company reported a 20% increase in oil production over the same period last year. While Continental has taken its own beating in the stock market, the company’s track record of capital discipline and building upon its proven hot spots continues unfettered and undeterred. Oil veteran William Berry, a previous ConocoPhillips exec and Continental board member will assume the role of CEO effective Jan. 1. And as for Hamm now taking a back seat to the operations at Continental? Don’t be fooled. This is his baby, and he’s not going anywhere.

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