Billionaire’s advice

Bakken drilling pioneer and major UND benefactor Harold Hamm answers questions from students

Mark Kennedy, Harold Hamm and Hesham El Rewini

Harold Hamm receives a gift from the Harold Hamm School of Geology & Geological Engineering at UND. The billionaire oil mogul, who pioneered drilling in western North Dakota, took time on Friday to answer questions from UND engineering students. Hamm poses with UND President Mark Kennedy, UND Petroleum Engineering chair Vamegh Rasouli (back), UND Engineering Dean Hesham El- Rewini and Geology & Geological Engineering Associate Professor Stephan Nordeng. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

If you want to succeed, you’re in the right place to earn that degree.

That was the advice from Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Oil, as he answered student questions about success, finding that first job, and the future of the oil industry.

“I’m honored to be here today,” said Hamm to the standing-room-only crowd of students in the atrium of Leonard Hall, home to the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Engineering. “Some of my best memories are of sharing my experiences with students.”

“It was tough for me to get an education,” said Hamm, the youngest of 13 children and son of sharecroppers in rural Oklahoma. “After high school I went into the oil fields, made a fortune, and then went to school. Don’t try that. You are doing the right thing by being in school.”

Hamm pioneered the development of the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota and is a UND benefactor. He answered questions from students Jan. 26, and visited campus while in Grand Forks for the North Dakota Petroleum Council annual meeting.

Hamm was introduced by Hesham El-Rewini, dean of the College of Engineering & Mines, in the packed atrium.

“Five years ago, we celebrated naming the Harold Hamm School of Geological and Geological Engineering,” said El-Rewini, thanking Hamm for his continued support and welcoming members of the Petroleum Council, who also attended the talk.

President Kennedy hosted the event, and asked Hamm questions submitted by students. They ranged from getting that first job to oil prices and technology in the oil fields.

“We are the chief opportunity engine in North Dakota,” Kennedy said to Hamm. “UND and the state are immensely better because of your generosity.”

Harold Hamm

Hamm dropped the ceremonial puck before Friday’s UND hockey game between the UND Fighting Hawks and the Denver Pioneers. Image courtesy of UND Athletics.

Life’s worth of knowledge

“Like lots of you, I grew up on a farm,” said Hamm. “My first employers were my parents, and I grew up milking cows and doing chores, raising crops and caring for livestock. You can’t get better mentors than that.

“Look for subtle things that work for you – special talents and interests,” Hamm said as he responded to a question about how to be successful. “What are you passionate about? There’s a saying that you will never work a day in your life if you’re doing something you enjoy. For me it was the oil patch. I’m excited to go to work every day. You’re doing the right thing by developing yourself and your mind to prepare for the future.”

First impressions are really important, Hamm said about meeting new people. “Be interested in the person you’re meeting.” Prepare for the meeting, learn about their interests, focus directly on them, align your thoughts with that person and show your best side, he said.

To be more marketable in the oil industry, Hamm said, you need to learn everything you can.

“We are looking for superstars. Do well in school, have a clear path to success, don’t give up.” Even if no job is open he said, use all the resources you can, including social media and friends. “It will happen.”

Wherever you are, there are always people willing to mentor and teach you, Hamm said. “Ask questions, and people will go out of their way to help you. I had a lot of mentors. That’s why I like to talk to students like you. I want to give back.”

Jeffrey Bader and Harold Hamm

Hamm (right) examines soil core samples with Jeffrey Bader, director of Wilson M. Laird Core & Sample Library, which is located on the UND campus. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

In the field

Technology – and North Dakota – have changed the world, Hamm said in response to a question about horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. At its peak, he said, diesel fuel cost $4.50 per gallon, and with the advent of fracking, it went down to $2.50 per gallon. “The Bakken brought the price down. In 2008, we were 30 percent dependent on foreign oil. . . . Now, we are exporting oil.”

Hamm said his company began with direct drilling rigs, and as technology evolved, they were able to drill horizontal wells beneath cities. By using injection, he said, they could withdraw five times the volume from a horizontal well than a vertical well.

“We came to North Dakota to find oil and large fields, and it proved out,” Hamm said. “That was where the Bakken started – we were one of the first players.”

Hamm credited much of the Bakken’s success to the Laird Core and Sample Library on campus, which houses core and drill cuttings from nearly every test and well drilling in North Dakota.

“The Core Library is the most visionary thing I’ve seen anywhere,” Hamm said. “It’s a great tool for explorers like myself.” Hamm said that after he spent a day examining cores, one thing checked out. “The Three Forks Formation. . . . more than doubled the reserves in North Dakota. That was tremendous. The Core Library set that up. None of us forgot that.”

What’s your view of how much oil we can recover? asked a student.

“When we first started in Bakken, we thought there were 450-500 billion barrels – lots of oil,” Hamm said. “We thought we could recover 3 to 4 percent.” Now, he said, they are seeing 20-24 percent recovery. “We’ve gone from small numbers to a huge amount of recovery.” That’s due to the Core Library, Hamm said. “You should go look at Bakken core. It looks like concrete with oil stains. It’s very dense. . . . We need students like you to help make extraction rates greater. There’s a lot of oil in the Bakken.”

Will we see $100 oil again? asked President Kennedy.

“Never say never,” Hamm replied, adding that’s one of the fears of world leaders. “We’d like to see midrange prices – enough to spur investment but not enough to decrease consumption.”

A related question was when oil prices will go up.

“It is up!” Hamm said. “We’re close to rebalancing supply and demand in the world. Oil is $66 barrel today. . . It takes a little while to balance, and it will be a good environment in May when you graduate.”

Why UND?

In response to a question about why Hamm has given millions to UND, he replied, “We wanted to hire local people. If we had a school that could teach the skill sets at home, we knew we’d have a lot of great people. There are no better workers than North Dakotans.

“You have a great environment at UND,” Hamm said. “You have a great school, a great president, administration, and wonderful opportunity. One of your questions was what I would have done differently. I couldn’t go to college after high school. I did it when I could, and it meant a great deal to me. Don’t waste this opportunity. You’re here and doing the right thing. You couldn’t be in a better setting anywhere.”