Billionaire oilman Ray Hunt has never talked much about an oil-exploration agreement his Hunt Oil Co. signed last year with the government of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. Hunt, a close friend of President George W. Bush, is said to have ticked off officials in Washington and Baghdad when the company secretly negotiated the contract, which calls for exploration in the Dahuk region of the Kurdish-controlled north. But last night, as Hunt (pictured here) was being honored in Dallas by the Entrepreneurs Foundation of North Texas, he opened up about the agreement during a Q&A session before an admiring crowd. When someone asked him why he “gets up in the morning,” Hunt replied the reason is: “Being a catalyst.” A little later, he expounded on the controversial contract, the war on terror, and his vision for Iraq’s future.
The Kurdistan oil play is “going very well,” Hunt said. “The conventional wisdom has been that Iraq is a horrible place that doesn’t have its act together, and of course nobody likes to see death and destruction. But if anybody wanted to be a billionaire, I know how they could have done it. Turn back the clock to Sept. 12, the day after 9/11, and if you’d driven to Las Vegas–you couldn’t fly then–and taken six $100 bills into six of the gambling houses, and said, ‘What odds will you give me that there won’t be a terrorist event in the United States in the next seven years?’– today you’d be a billionaire. And, people have lost sight of that.
“But if you go to Iraq today, the violence is occurring in the southern portions, not in Kurdistan. It’s a different society. It’s been a very stable area. We looked at it, and considered that the conventional wisdom may be wrong. The Kurds are surrounded by enemies; they were the reason we had the no-fly zone in the north, because Saddam Hussein had massacred the Kurds. So we took the position, we saw that the native Kurds who had fled to Europe and the U.S. were moving back. The year before we went in, the price of real estate there increased 10-fold.
“I went to sign the contract myself. When I got to Kurdistan, there was no litter anywhere. They also have their version of the Texas Rangers there, who are able to keep the terrorists out of the area; they’re also helping push al-Qaida out of Mosul. So, we went in and negotiated the contracts we have. There were a number of legal things that were done just right. We’ve completed all the pre-work, and we’re ready to drill a well right now. Now other people are saying, ‘Maybe we should take a second look at this.’ So, our company in some small way might be causing other companies to take a second look at a part of Iraq.
“I think that, in the end, you’ll end up with a soft partition of Iraq, a very decentralized government, with authority granted to three provinces. The Kurds I think will end up being an example, especially with the Internet–you can’t hold back the flow of information–and people will say, “This is happening in Kurdistan; we want it to happen in Iraq [as a whole].” American democracy is not one-size-fits-all, but, as an example of what freedom can do, it’s remarkable that this can happen.
“And, I guess all that goes back to why I get up in the morning.”