By Ernest Scheyder
REUTERS - Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg toured a North Dakota drilling rig on Tuesday and peppered industry workers in the No. 2 U.S. oil-producing state with questions about automation, safety and fracking.
The visit to North Dakota, which pumps about 1.1 million barrels of oil per day - more than some OPEC members - is part of Zuckerberg's plan to tour all 50 states this year and learn about their local economies and communities.
While Zuckerberg, 33, is a vocal supporter of renewable energy development, he said the visit gave him an opportunity to meet with those who rely on oil and natural gas production for their livelihood and oppose tighter regulation of the energy industry.
"Many people I talked to here acknowledged (climate change), but also feel a sense of pride that their work contributes to serving real needs we all have every day - keeping our homes warm, getting to work, feeding us and more," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post early Wednesday morning.
The Facebook co-founder flew his private jet into Williston, the de facto capital of the state's oil industry, and toured a nearby drilling rig operated by Nabors Industries Ltd and an oil well owned by Statoil ASA.
Zuckerberg spent more than two hours with roughnecks on the drilling rig, asking about technology developments that have helped the U.S. shale industry in the past two years cut in half the time needed to drill a new oil well.
Representatives for Nabors and Statoil were not immediately available to comment.
In a picture accompanying the Facebook post, Zuckerberg can be seen wearing the oilfield uniform of fire-resistant coveralls and a hard hat. He is not wearing safety glasses or gloves but holds them in his left hand, a violation of rig safety rules.
"Zuckerberg was extremely intrigued by all the technological developments in the oilfields," said Ron Ness, head of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, the industry trade group that arranged the tour with Facebook.
Zuckerberg later held a community meeting to discuss education and housing. Politicians were not allowed to attend. The months-long delay of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which transports the state's Bakken crude oil, was also a main topic.
"A number of people told me they had felt their livelihood was blocked by the government, but when (President Donald) Trump approved the pipeline, they felt a sense of hope again," Zuckerberg said.
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)