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Oil exec: 'Beat Obama'

Continental Resources CEO Harold Ham speaks Thursday during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.2 / 2

BISMARCK -- Harold Hamm cut down his speech to three words: "Beat Barack Obama."

The Continental Resources CEO who led a panel discussion Thursday during the final day of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference said energy will play a huge role in upcoming elections.

Hamm, whose company led the way in using horizontal drilling to tap North Dakota's oil producing potential, is Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney's energy committee chairman. He said he was happy to accept the role but said it was unusual for someone associated with government to want to work with someone knowledgeable about energy.

"That's not what happened in the past," Hamm said. "If you knew something about it, they left you on the sideline."

Hamm called Obama's energy policy a failure.

"Romney has a policy of abundance," Hamm said. "The other one is one of scarcity."

Hamm also called for the development of major pipelines in North Dakota to reduce the price discount that Bakken crude receives in comparison to Texas oil. Hamm blames a shipping bottleneck for the discount and called for multiple new pipelines.

"We need all we can get here. We need to get rid of this differential and we've got to do it now," Hamm said. "We're way behind time on it."

The members of the CEO panel also addressed being good stewards of the state that has become No. 2 in the nation in oil production, and dealing with problems such as truck traffic and rapid growth.

Jim Volker, CEO of Whiting Petroleum, said the future of the Bakken "just gets better."

"It gets better for all of us," Volker said. "It gets better for the people of the state, it gets better for state tax revenue and it gets better for all the people that we're bringing in to enjoy the quality of life in North Dakota."

Volker said his company is committed to being good stewards of natural resources. Whiting has a goal of zero emissions from its facilities and is working to expand natural gas pipelines to eliminate gas flaring, he said.

Hamm said Continental Resources will continue to develop drilling techniques that lower costs but also create more distance between oil wells.

"It doesn't look like much drilling is going on but a whole lot is," Hamm said.

Dave Roberts, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Marathon Oil, said oil companies are working to become more efficient and reduce the number of trucks on the road.

"We don't like all these trucks on the road either, because that costs me money and we live in these communities," Roberts said.

Oil companies want to support North Dakota communities by contributing money to community causes as well as becoming involved locally, Roberts said.

"The key thing is ask us," he said. "Most of us are more than happy to continue to commit to the communities that are so supportive of us up here."

Whiting has a policy of targeting new hires from northern tier states because they're able to be closer to friends and family. That has resulted in a turnover rate of less than 5 percent, Volker said.

Roberts said he sees the oil and gas industry at a critical intersection, with how things work in North Dakota serving as a model for other states with potential oil and gas developments.

"Coming from one direction, we have this incredible gift, these revolutionary supply developments that are built on innovation and application of new technologies," Roberts said. "From the other direction, we have the significant social, environmental and geopolitical challenges that accompany this growth.

"The manner in which we respond to these two forces and navigate this intersection could ultimately lead to the success or failure of North Dakota's oil and gas business and, indeed, the potential we see in other energy producing states," Roberts said.

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.