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Published December 04, 2010, 12:00 AM

Billionaire oilman says ND’s potential not yet met

GRAND FORKS – Harold Hamm, the billionaire Oklahoma oilman who is drilling more wells in North Dakota than anyone, traipsed back and forth across UND’s campus all Friday, talking to politicians, researchers and local businessmen.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communication Co., INFORUM

GRAND FORKS – Harold Hamm, the billionaire Oklahoma oilman who is drilling more wells in North Dakota than anyone, traipsed back and forth across UND’s campus all Friday, talking to politicians, researchers and local businessmen.

But it was students who seemed to be his favorite audience.

He kept a classroom of 300 UND students quiet for an hour, answering their questions about oil and succeeding in life.

He told them to “follow your dream.”

It was as a young student himself, in a similar gathering listening to a successful entrepreneur in high school, that he first was inspired to try his hand at forging his own destiny, Hamm told the rapt students.

“It was a man named John Frank,” he said of the man who started a pottery business in Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s. “He said to find something you are passionate about. I remember he was sitting up there working at a pottery wheel as he talked to us. And I was working night and day at the time, at a service station, pumping gas. And I thought, ‘What do I have to be passionate about?’ ”

But he looked around where he was living in Enid, Okla., and realized he was among some interesting people.

“They were oilmen. They were generous and charming and adventurous. I started thinking I wanted to be in the oil business.”

It’s worked out pretty well.

Hamm, 64, was worth $5.8 billion in September, according to Forbes’ listing of the richest Americans.

Continental Resources, the oil and gas company he founded 40 years ago, is one of the biggest players in the nation’s oil fields and the biggest in North Dakota in drilling new wells.

Hamm is more bullish than most on North Dakota’s oil potential.

He said Friday his company has done its own “scoping” of the Williston Basin and figures it holds up to 24 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. That is triple the amount official sources, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, have estimated can be recovered using today’s technology. And it would make the Williston Basin bigger than the Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska’s North Slope, usually considered North America’s largest oil field with about 14 billion barrels of recoverable crude; most of it has been pumped out.

Hamm called Friday for state and federal officials to again assess the Bakken and Three Forks’ potential, because that will aid the industry in knowing what and how much to plan for investing in and developing it.

In response to a student’s question, Hamm said the BP oil spill in the Gulf last spring, while a tragedy that took lives and made a mess, led to some good things.

“One was how BP stood up and took responsibility and put $20 billion on the table and said, ‘We are going to make it right.’ Another thing was how the whole industry came together and did an excellent job cleaning up,” he said.

The damage from the oil ended up being far less than feared, Hamm said.

The potential of oil for the state hasn’t been reached, he said.

A new study has found that each drilling rig in the state has an economic impact of about $120 million per year, with the value of the oil and all the employment and investment related to producing the well, Hamm said.

There are 164 rigs drilling in the state as of Friday, according to the state Department of Mineral Resources, meaning the total economic impact of the oil development in a year would be nearly $20 billion.


Stephen J. Lee is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald

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