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Harold Hamm, sharecropper to oil and fracking tycoon

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  • The U.S. will pass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the No. 1 oil producer in the world in 2015. Harold Hamm — a sharecropper's son — has been a key player in a phenomenal oil boom.

As a child, Harold Hamm picked cotton until Christmas or the first snow — now he’s the 90th richest person on the planet and the 33rd richest American. Forbes ranks Hamm at No. 90 on its billionaires list — with his total worth at $11.3 billion.

After a 20-year decline and apocalyptic predictions of a choking U.S. oil supply, the spigot is open full-bore. Today, the U.S. is pumping out 7.7 million barrels of oil per day — and will pass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the No. 1 oil producer in the world in 2015. Just seven or eight years back, oil and natural gas were in a nosedive — but no more.

Fracking and horizontal drilling have swelled the flow of what is probably the second biggest oil boom in history and the unlikely Hamm has been involved in some manner every step of the way, an improbable road from sharecropper to wildcatter to oil tycoon.

Fracking is used in 33 states for gas and oil extraction, but the epicenter is North Dakota, a state with arguably the most robust economy in the nation. Hydraulic fracturing through dense shale is responsible for 90 percent of new oil and gas wells in the U.S., and Hamm believes North Dakota’s famed Bakken field will yield 24 million barrels of oil within decades. Hamm has become the biggest oil man in America, and leads the pack in North Dakota. The big boys — Chevron and Exxon — missed out on the initial boom, while wildcatters like Hamm dove in.

But don’t expect a Daniel Plainview or “I drink your milkshake” type of character. From the National Review: “Anyone expecting or hoping for a swaggering oilman is likely to be disappointed. Hamm is bookish and somewhat shy.”

Hamm, 68, was born in 1945, in Lexington, Okla., the 13th child in a family of poor sharecroppers — they owned no land. As he tells NR: “We went wherever the cotton was good. Usually, whoever you were pulling cotton for had some kind of housing. Some folks lived in tents. We’d pull cotton till Christmas or the first snow, and then we were out of there.”

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