By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer
BISMARCK, ND (AP).- The majority owner of an oil company that has been drilling for crude in western North Dakota has donated $1.8 million to help finance construction of a major expansion to North Dakota's Heritage Center.
Harold Hamm's contribution should allow construction to begin this summer. The $51.7 million expansion will double the size of the museum on the state Capitol grounds and add a theater, display galleries, new glass entrance and cafe. The building first opened in 1981.
Hamm is chief executive and the controlling stockholder of Continental Resources Inc. of Enid, Okla. He owns more than 70 percent of Continental's stock, according to the company's most recent annual report. At current market prices, his stake is worth more than $5 billion.
Hamm declined comment on the donation to the Heritage Center, but two officials with knowledge of it confirmed the amount to The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the donation is being officially announced Friday before a meeting of the foundation's board of directors.
The North Dakota Legislature set aside $39.7 million for the project last year, while stipulating that the remaining cost had to be raised elsewhere. Lawmakers said the expansion could not begin until the state Historical Society of North Dakota's foundation had cash and pledges worth at least $6 million.
Virginia Nelsen, the foundation's director, said Wednesday that more than $5 million has been raised for the project. She declined to confirm the amount of Hamm's donation.
"The fundraising is going well," Nelsen said.
The money raised includes a $1.3 million contribution from Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, a group of rural electric cooperatives whose North Dakota members include Basin Electric Power Cooperative, of Bismarck, and the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, of Mandan.
Continental Resources is one of the leading oil explorers in western North Dakota's Bakken oil shale formation, which has helped make North Dakota the fourth-largest oil-producing state in the nation. Oil production, which hovered just above 100,000 barrels a day in early 2006, now exceeds 245,000 barrels daily.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.