Oil field mergers could mean more influence for one of the Texas GOP’s biggest donors

Tim Dunn of Midland is considering a sale of his drilling company.

By Michael MarksDecember 5, 2023 10:27 am, ,

The energy industry is going through a period of consolidation in west Texas’ Permian Basin.

The biggest fish in the pond like Chevron and Exxon Mobil are spending billions to buy oil producers in the region. And all that cash could play a big role in the future of Texas politics.

Bloomberg reports that Midland energy executive Tim Dunn is considering a sale of his drilling company, CrownRock. Dunn’s donations already help shape the debate in the capitol. But the billions of dollars that would follow a sale may grow his influence considerably.

Mitchell Ferman, a Texas-based energy reporter for Bloomberg, spoke to the Texas Standard about Dunn’s opportunity. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s talk a little bit more about Tim Dunn. Do you think most folks in Midland/Odessa would know that name or is he largely an energy business insider?

Mitchell Ferman: Yeah, in Midland and Odessa I think a fair amount of folks know who Tim Dunn is. But outside of that West Texas region, you know, in the largest Texas cities, he’s not as known. You know, he’s not out there doing interviews and going on TV. That’s not really his style.

So known among politicians because of all that money, it sounds like. So does Dunn currently have an offer for his drilling company on the table?

So he’s fielding bids right now. We have reported that Occidental Petroleum and Devon Energy and Diamondback Energy have closely eyed CrownRock – Tim Dunn’s company – and yeah, we’ll see if Dunn decides to sell.

And if he does sell, how much might that sale net him? Because this sort of gets at the political influence matter, right?

Yeah. So for one, it’s shaping up that his company will sell for more than $10 billion. And how much he will receive is not precisely known at the moment because his company is privately owned – it’s not a public company. It’s one of the last big private drilling companies out in West Texas. And so because it’s private, you know, we don’t have all of the public documents that we get with public companies.

So if they are indeed purchased by one of these public oil companies, then we’ll get a look under the hood.

Well, let’s talk more about the fact that Tim Dunn seems to sort of stand apart in a way from the many people who do give money to politicians. What does set Tim Dunn apart, do you think?

You know, we talked to a bunch of political scientists in Texas, and the kind of consensus was that he gives his money with more of an ideological and policy agenda as opposed to his business interests.

He’s interested in various conservative issues, but we don’t see him out there giving money to issues that are largely impactful to his industry, as we do with, for example, pipeline magnet Kelcy Warren, real estate mogul Harlan Crow. He differs on that front.

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Okay. So ideological donor. How would you describe that ideology? And what about the politicians who have benefited from his political largesse?

Yeah, his interests include schools and the education system. He gives a lot of money to candidates and groups that have been pushing the private school voucher system at the statehouse in Austin. You know, he’s also given money to plenty of folks who have a hard line on immigration and who have pushed various kind of conservative approaches to the border with Mexico. And so those are just a couple.

But he’s also, you know, in Greg Abbott’s last primary election, he supported Don Huffines, Abbott’s primary opponent. And Huffines at the time claimed to have pulled Greg Abbott more to the right.

Well, a question, I guess, is how much more Dunn might be able to influence Texas politics than he already does, right?

Right. And while Texas is a massive media market – you know, we have a bunch of media markets across the state – it’s expensive to run a statewide campaign.

But in oil world, the money is extravagant. And so while the state is expensive politically for someone like Tim Dunn, this is not a huge chunk of his wealth. So, you know, if he does sell his company and receives a large windfall, he can influence Texas politics as much as he wants.

We had one billionaire, Bryan Sheffield, the founder of Parsley Energy, and Sheffield donates to plenty of Republican politicians. He said that if Dunn does sell his company, he will be able to seriously change politics in Texas for the next ten years.

For the next ten years.

And that’s at least, right? I mean, it’s really up to Dunn.

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