This what US oil and gas drillers really think about Trump's policies

Harold Hamm
David Orrell | CNBC

Executives of some of the top independent oil and gas companies are feeling optimistic about the regulatory outlook under President Donald Trump, but some sounded a note of caution over Republican tax and trade policies during a panel on U.S. exploration and production at CERAWeek by IHS Markit on Wednesday.

Trump and Republican lawmakers have begun rolling back Obama-era energy regulations, and the White House reportedly has more climate change initiatives in its sights.

Continental Resources Chairman and CEO Harold Hamm repeated a claim he often makes: that the energy industry was dying a death by a thousand cuts under President Barack Obama.

"It was more of the same. They wanted to eliminate our industry just like they eliminated coal," said Hamm, who has advised Trump on energy policy.

Senate repeals regulation on coal waste and streams
Senate repeals regulation on coal waste and streams

To be sure, the surge in U.S. natural gas drilling and other market forces, rather than regulation, have been the main driver of coal's decline in the United States.

Anadarko Petroleum CEO and Chairman Al Walker said he does not believe the Obama administration targeted the energy industry, so much as drillers got swept up in regulation that went a little too far in general. While he hopes for regulatory relief, he said some level of regulation is necessary.

"We need a common denominator factor, and so the absence of regulation would bother me as much as over-regulation," he said.

Washington is likely to be more supportive of approving pipelines to distribute natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and bordering states, said Jeff Ventura, chairman and CEO of Range Resources, a major player in the region.

"I'm sure there's streamlining in terms of regulations and things like that that will be helpful," he said. "With the takeaway and being able to move American energy, really, it's a competitive advantage. It's a job creator."

Laredo Petroleum CEO: Over next 2-3 years, oil prices will recover nicely
Laredo Petroleum CEO: Over next 2-3 years, oil prices will recover nicely

Laredo Petroleum CEO Randy Foutch told CNBC on the sidelines of CERAWeek he couldn't point to anything Trump has done to directly benefit his company, but his enthusiasm for the oil and gas business has been "very positive."

The CEOs were somewhat more circumspect on issues of trade and tax policy.

Asked about the impact of a potential NAFTA renegotiation on energy trade between the United States and Mexico, Walker pointed to rising shipments of natural gas across the border.

"We certainly benefit by sending 4 [billion cubic feet] a day to Mexico. No doubt about it. My pessimism around gas price discovery would be a lot more pessimistic if we weren't sending 4 Bcf a day," he said. "That number should go up."

A so-called border-adjustment tax put forward by Republicans would put a tariff on imports but not exports. Some energy analysts have raised concerns that it would hurt refiners that import foreign crude and potentially lead to lower oil prices

Hamm said a border adjustment tax would change the entire taxation system in America and questioned whether such a tax system is still necessary.

"I certainly understand why it would be necessary with manufactured goods — stopping the flow out of this country and using cheap labor and bringing it back in — and that would certainly cure that. But I think that's already been stopped somewhat from what I've seen."

Walker said he respected that House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady are trying to "needle the thread" of tax reform, but stopped short of endorsing a border adjustment tax.

"I think the debate that's going on will lead to some opportunities to be able to seek tax reform in a way that we're not considering it today," he said. "Whether it takes the form of a border adjustment tax or some other derivative, remains to be seen, but I think most of us in the business community would welcome tax reform."