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Sherri Richards, Published April 21 2010

A lesson in entrepreneurship

One of the world’s richest men, a major player in North Dakota’s oil fields, shared his views on entrepreneurship, philanthropy and the country’s energy resources Tuesday in Moorhead.

Harold G. Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources, spoke at Concordia College. The 64-year-old ranked 136th on Forbes’ 2010 list of the world’s billionaires, with a net worth of $5.5 billion – the same as Apple’s Steve Jobs.

His company has one of the largest lease holdings in the Bakken shale, the vast, oil-rich formation covering parts of Montana and western North Dakota.

He said his company was recently referred to as “the Walmart of the Bakken.”

“I loved it,” Hamm said. “We were big in the Bakken and doing it cheaper.”

Hamm is described as a pioneer in using the technologies that allow oil and natural gas to be produced in the shale, such as horizontal drilling and fracture stimulation.

Continental Resources has 15 drill rigs running in North Dakota, Hamm said, and last quarter increased capital spending in the state by $200 million.

He believes the area, which also includes the Three Forks-Sanish formation, will end up producing 8 billion barrels of oil. He thinks the country will have enough oil for the foreseeable future, and that wind energy will only be a secondary energy source.

His audience Tuesday afternoon consisted of backpack-wearing students and black-suited business leaders, who had just lunched with Hamm.

He told the crowd that entrepreneur opportunities abound, but not enough people are making the “bold move.”

“Too many people give up on the free enterprise system,” Hamm said. “That’s why we’re in the greatest country in the world is because of capitalism and ability for any one of you to grow up and create your own business.”

Hamm was the youngest of 13 children, the son of a share-crop farmer. He said each child needed to do their part to survive as a family. “Immediately it puts you to thinking of economics, even as a young child,” he said.

He went from pumping gas at a station to drilling his first well in 1971, with just a high school diploma.

“It’s always best to have some luck at the beginning. Otherwise you’re broke and nobody remembers your name,” he said.

Hamm built a fortune and then went to college to study geology about 10 years after high school. “Don’t do what I did,” he told the college students.

He encouraged them to have passion.

“You’re never too young to enjoy passion for something,” he said. “Whatever you have a passion for, you’re going to do well.”

Todd Robley, a Concordia senior majoring in economics, was on the panel asking Hamm questions. He was interested in the evolution of Hamm’s business, and the ethical concerns involved with running an oil company.

“It’s good to hear … somebody who believes in this part of the country,” Robley said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556